Building for future growth
July 4, 2023
If continuity is crucial to business momentum, then Kingston is more than moving at pace under recently-installed managing director Paul Carter. Using nearly two decades’ experience that spans from Kingston forerunner Cheviot Housing Association to the present day, he is laying the foundations for the Newcastle-based property management organisation’s next growth phase. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to Paul, to learn more about his plans for market and geographical expansion, which will always be bound by a strong social commitment.
Paul Carter has never been one to stand still.
Right from starting out as a bright accountancy sector 20-something, his natural effervescence came with no little forward motion and desire to effect positive change.
So when the opportunity arose to switch to the social housing sector, and then later channel his energy into helping catalyse the growth of the freshly-seeded property management organisation Kingston, the lure was naturally attractive.
That was more than a decade ago, and now, with the Newcastle-based venture having grown from sapling to deep-rooted inter-regional operator in the private residential market, recently-appointed managing director Paul is ready to administer another injection of momentum.
The residential sector may be suffering a tempestuous period, with higher inflation and cost of living demands stripping back domestic budgets, but Paul says Kingston – which employs around 100 staff and is the commercial arm of housing provider Bernicia Group – is readily placed to flourish.
Helping raise such prospects is a freshly-unveiled five-year corporate strategy, wherein tenets of market expansion, diversification and technological advances spread across Kingston’s leasehold block management arm, its Open Spaces residential estate management division and its award-winning Living Spaces sales and lettings agency.
Paul says: “A key part of the plan is the absorption and management of growth.
“Block management – which, among other services, oversees property maintenance and service charge collections for apartments across the North East, Cumbria and Yorkshire, has always been our core business.
“But we’ve now hit a period of consolidation over recent years, with demand for apartments, from a development perspective, declining.”
“However, our diverse offer – particularly our Open Spaces division – leaves us very confident,” says Paul, who led the estate management enterprise prior to becoming Kingston’s managing director.
He adds: “We’ve now hit the same number of individual customers for Open Spaces – 14,000 – as we have for block management.
“And, over the next five years, we know there will be up to an additional 40,000 or so units coming into management for Open Spaces.
“The division is going to quadruple in size over the next decade,” adds Paul, who joined Kingston’s forerunner Cheviot Housing Association 18 years ago as a finance officer, before moving over to the private residential sector and its present-day progeny under predecessor Colin Ord, who built up the commercial company.
Central to Open Spaces’ thrust, says Paul, will be, somewhat paradoxically, the slowdown of new housebuilding schemes.
He says: “In the past, when development has been at the forefront of builders’ minds, the estate management handover process has, at times, been a bit of a slow-burner.
“But I think we’ll see more growth over the next 18 months, as developers look to hand over developments on a phased basis.”
Expansion too is planned for Living Spaces, along with technological improvements across the commercial business.
Hoping to mirror the successes of its block management and Open Spaces arms, by similarly pushing the Newcastle-based sales and lettings division beyond city centre postcodes, Paul says Kingston will equally grow through refreshed software that meets at the intersection of service efficiency and customer desire.
He says: “We’re looking to see how we can grow Living Spaces organically.
“It’ll be a step-by-step process, but we’re looking at marketing campaigns to promote the brand a little more.
“It operates in a far more competitive market than block management and Open Spaces, but we’re nevertheless confident of pushing it on.”
Paul adds: “And we’ve invested in technology too, which includes an enhanced version of our integrated internal Qube system.
“It covers every part of the business, from sales enquiries to finance and maintenance, and has an owner portal that quickly filters repair reports to the right departments and allows customers to self serve.
“Things were always previously paper and postal driven, but clients are increasingly asking if they can have bills emailed or pay online, for example, and we’ve been champing at the bit to improve efficiencies and deliver such services.
“We want to be increasingly fleet of foot, and further investment in Qube will allow us to be so.”
And with client satisfaction at the core of the new corporate strategy and paving the way for further growth, Paul says it will help strengthen another intrinsic element of Kingston’s operations – its contribution to its Ashington-headquartered parent Bernicia Group’s benevolent fund.
Kingston profits are gift aided to Bernicia and fund The Bernicia Foundation, which provides grants of up to £1000 for “inspirational young people” under 24, and up to £10,000 to charities and voluntary organisations.
Paul adds: “The Foundation gives us real purpose and is fantastic in allowing people to see what we are driving the commercial business for.
“We use our successes to help others; we’re not a profit thirsty plc.”