In this week’s exclusive one-on-one, we speak to Ed Lewis about his career path, his role on many new homes projects in the South West of England, and his thoughts on the housebuilding sector as a career path for young people.
Please tell us a little about yourself, Acorn and your current role.
I am currently the senior land manager in Acorn Property Group’s Bristol region. I joined Acorn over three years ago but I have been working in the development industry for more than 15 years in residential and mixed-use development sectors.
This year is set to be a really exciting time as we open up a new office in Exeter. This will see my role evolve as I become the new regional director there and it gives us complete coverage throughout the South West region.
I’ve been involved in acquiring a broad range of sites from rural exceptions sites for affordable housing to large strategic allocations. Traditionally, I’ve been responsible for site identification, acquisition and appraisal but increasingly my time is also spent managing internal and external resources to secure planning consents.
Can you tell us about your career path?
After graduating from university with a degree in psychology and sociology, I joined the Royal Navy where I was a helicopter pilot for five years. When I decided to leave the military I joined a private sector affordable housing company that specialised in rural exceptions sites in Cornwall. After several successful developments in Cornwall, I took the opportunity to relocate to Bristol and grow the business throughout the South.
As our profile grew I was approached by Redrow Homes to work from their Bristol office and I saw this as an opportunity to gain further experience and expand my horizons. When the recession hit I decided to go back to university and ‘up-skill’ so I accepted a place at Reading University where I completed my Master’s Degree in Real Estate. Thereafter I worked for Persimmon Homes before joining Acorn.
Are there any past projects and/or mentors that have been particularly inspiring?
I actually knew Robin Squire, Acorn Bristol’s regional managing director from our time working together at Redrow and had always been very impressed at how I’d seen him grow the business in the Bristol region. When I was first was introduced to Acorn and consequently started working for them I really appreciated just how differently Acorn approach their developments and that good design really can add value even if it costs a bit more to achieve.
I genuinely felt inspired and excited as their projects were so very different to what I had been used to working on. Hope House in Bath is a remarkable example of Acorn’s ‘different by design’ ethos and it just felt so refreshing to be working on projects where the design was paramount to every aspect.
What is it about your current position that you most enjoy?
I have always really enjoyed seeing physical results for hard work and property is the ideal way to see the fruits of your labours. My favourite part is the satisfaction I get from securing planning consents on difficult sites that require creative thinking. For instance, Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education; our new site in Exeter has been a challenging site for a number of reasons but we achieved planning permission at the first attempt with Committee, it meets the vendor’s expectations in terms of value and timescales and it will also achieve ambitious design standards making it a new benchmark for Exeter in terms of design and placemaking.
Ultimately, I appreciate the sense of pride everyone has in our developments and seeing the positive reactions of the landowners and purchasers. We have a fantastic culture here at Acorn that is not procedural or hierarchical and it is very apparent just how passionate the team is on what we design and build.
Have training, recruitment and HR changed a lot since your first experiences of them?
I think they have naturally evolved, yes, and this is all down to the growth of the company. We’ve achieved significant successes in the last few years, so HR has worked really hard to ensure that all of aspects of training, recruitment and HR match those of a larger business.
This being said, the company endeavours to remain a flexible employer, especially for those of us with families and other commitments. I think one of the main reasons this is made possible is through our efforts to always recruit through recommendation, helping us to be able to trust the talent that we employ, knowing that they too will have our values and help to maintain our culture.
With national new homes targets increasing, what are the career prospects at Acorn?
We are continuing to grow in size and we’ve achieved some significant successes in terms of site purchases. Acorn Property Group always recognises hard working talent and is always on the lookout for people who hold the same values as us. So if you’re interested in working with us it’s always worth getting in touch even if a relevant role is not currently being advertised.
What is it about Acorn’s approach to housebuilding, and its training and recruitment that make it an attractive place to work?
Overall I would say it’s the culture here. Everybody in the team is passionate about what we do and always want to do the best by our partners, landowners and purchasers. We’re all very motivated and care about what we do and I think that is why the company is so dedicated in ensuring it remains a flexible employer that always does its best by its staff.
What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in housebuilding right now?
Work experience is vital and I’d advise getting a broad range of exposure to the different sectors in the industry as it enables you to learn where you’re best suited. The most important thing is to have is a willingness to listen and learn – no development/job is ever the same. And finally, just think, if you do find a job that you enjoy it will feel like you never have to work a day in your life again, it’s cheesy but definitely true.