Tom Bloxham MBE - Chairman and Founder of Urban Splash

Posted on 25 March 2019 by Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman

I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our Propertyshe Podcast Series where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the extraordinary world of real estate.  Today I am delighted to welcome a real radical, Tom Bloxham, Co-Founder and Chairman of award-winning real estate developer, Urban Splash.  Since founding Urban Splash with Jonathan Falkingham in 1993, Tom has become a brand in his own right, with his trademark hat and open-toed sandals.  At the age of just 35, he was awarded an MBE for services to architecture and urban regeneration, and is considered to have been responsible for the renaissance of Manchester.  Tom is also Chair of the Manchester International Festival, a Trustee of the Tate, Manchester United Foundation Charity and the Bloxham Charitable Trust.  So, now we get the chance to talk to Tom Bloxham about 25 years of Urban Splash and what the future holds. 

So, Tom, Urban Splash was founded just over 25 years ago, I was thinking about this, I think we have known each other virtually since the beginning and an early memory was the British Property Federation Conference in Brighton which must have been in the late 1990s where I had insisted that we hear from somebody new and you came to join us on one of the panels. 

Tom Bloxham

Yes, I vaguely remember all these strange property types in suits but I think we had quite an interesting night afterwards, didn’t we, with Chris Eubank and Nick Leslau and that big mad lorry machine that Chris Eubank used to drive round Brighton or something like that.

Susan Freeman

I think that’s something I’d actually forgotten about that but I remember you caused quite a stir in your hat and open-toed sandals and there was particular concern that you had been out clubbing all night and that you might not be sufficiently alert to do your panel session the next morning. 

Tom Bloxham

Did I make it?    

Susan Freeman

You made it and you certainly made everybody sit up and take notice so, we achieved the right result.

Tom Bloxham

Good.

Susan Freeman

Urban Splash, you started off in selling fire extinguishers and posters.  How did Urban Splash come about?

Tom Bloxham

Well, sort of way before Urban Splash, I suppose I came out of school, didn’t really know what I wanted to do, started selling fire extinguishers originally, door to door, on the knocker, I had a briefcase, a can of petrol, poured the petrol over my briefcase, set fire to it and then put it out saying to everybody ‘Don’t you want to buy a fire extinguisher?’.  And of course, normally people wake up in the morning thinking they want to buy a fire extinguisher but it was actually just great training, it teaches you how to sell, it teaches you more importantly how to deal with rejection which we all get a lot of in life, from that I went to university, went to Manchester, thought I needed a, I developed quite an expensive beer habit by this time so thought I needed to make some money. I thought how shall I make some money?  What do students want to buy?  They all want to buy records.  So, my first student grant cheque, I bought a load of records but I actually bought all the wrong records, made an absolute failure of that, couldn’t sell any, was really quite stuck because I had spent all my money on the records, wasn’t selling them but I had noticed all students had bare breezeblock walls and wanted posters and the record wholesalers were actually giving away the posters for nothing and the idea was you’d go in and buy a hundred records and take one poster and I was sort of buying six or seven records and taking six or seven posters and selling the posters, and they were actually really cool posters designed by the record companies with some great images on there and from there I started publishing posters, buying them from the guys who were doing the flyposting, buying them from the record shops and built up a quite a big business supplying HMV and Virgin.  I was in the right place at the right time.  The Manchester music thing began to happen, we did a deal with the Stone Roses, deal with the Happy Mondays, Factory Records was up in Manchester but what I found was you could export posters and get 50 pence each for them, you could wholesale them and get £1.15, but you could retail them for £3 so the secret for me became to try to find some retail shops.  The problem is I had no track record, I had no accounts and everybody at that stage wanted just to lease property, retail property, anyway to big companies on 25 year leases.  So, eventually I hustled my way into renting 6000 square foot on the first and second floor of a shop in Oldham Street, I think I paid two grand a year rent, got charged 25 grand a year service charge, I was totally naïve, didn’t know what a lease looked like, obviously couldn’t find a good solicitor, needed one there, but the space was too big for me to sell posters and I had to find a way of funding the service charge so I ended up subletting it, splitting it up, keeping a bit of space to sell my posters, sublet the rest of it to friends who were also a load of young entrepreneurs like me selling jeans and records to tourists and made more money pretty quickly from subletting the space than selling the posters so, I thought ‘Hey up, I must be into property’. 

Susan Freeman

So, you’ve just celebrated 25 years of Urban Splash with a series of exhibitions which you called It Will Never Work.  Well, depending on what you set out to achieve in the first place, it seems to have worked pretty well.  I think you’ve developed around 5000 residential units, 2 million square foot of commercial property. 

Tom Bloxham

 Don’t call the residential units, call them homes. 

Susan Freeman

Homes. 

Tom Bloxham

I actually hate the way we refer to places as units.  We are building people’s homes.  Let us never forget that. 

Susan Freeman

Quite right.  Anyway, 5000 is a big number.  It seems to have worked pretty well. 

Tom Bloxham

Yeah, I mean we were looking at the exhibition after 25 years work and I think what’s interesting about Urban Splash, we’ve done a whole variety of different things, some residential, some commercial, some refurbishments, some newbuild, some modular housing, some retail, some office, some residential, a whole series of different sorts of products around the country, old Victorian mills, some Art Deco buildings, some concrete buildings, some very contemporary architecture and we were trying to look for common threads and I suppose the one we really found is most of the things we pick are funny things that nobody else wants that people think will never work, and even going back to the very beginnings of Urban Splash, we started doing residential development in Liverpool the first scheme and nobody lived in the city centre, and actually the very word ‘urban’ was a negative word, it was urban blight, urban deprivation, urban decay, urban taskforce and we were one of the first companies to take that word ‘urban’ and use in a positive way, Urban Splash.  And so we were made out initially to be saying we were almost evil, forcing people to live in the city centres where you couldn’t buy, literally you couldn’t buy a pint of milk or loaf of bread.  Why would anybody want to live in the city centre?  What are you doing?  It will never work.  And then we started developing new public squares outside the buildings and we said actually, you go to Spain or Italy or France and everybody sits out in the square, and people said they won’t do it in England.  And I say why not?  You do it when you go on holiday to Spain or France and people say well the weather is no good.  We actually literally had to get the meteorological reports to prove the weather was no worse in Liverpool than northern Spain or Italy. 

Susan Freeman

I thought it always rained in Manchester.

Tom Bloxham

It never rains in Manchester. The sun always shines.  There’s a myth by the southern media.  And then when we did other schemes like Fort Dunlop that nobody had managed to do, or the Midland Hotel in Morecambe or the Park Hill flats in Sheffield, or more recently modular housing.  Sort of many people have said it will never work which we take really as a provocation and it’s something that makes us think harder and perhaps work hard and try harder to make sure things really do or try and do, do make them work. 

Susan Freeman

It’s gone pretty well.  There was a rocky period after the 2008 financial crash and I think you have said in the past you could have shut up shop but you held on and came through at the other end but it must have been difficult after the upwards only trajectory and, I mean, how did you cope with that and what did you learn from that period?

Tom Bloxham

Yeah, I mean it was very tough because we had sort of spent, I don’t know, fifteen years on an entirely upward trajectory starting from literally a standing start, no capital, just the reinvested profits, we grew the business to a value of over £100 million, at least to an asset value of £100 million and then all of a sudden the world collapsed around us, the global financial crisis, we were right in the epicentre of that doing speculative northern residential property, we had nearly £300 million in debt, a lot of that was invested in work in progress, in holes in the ground, in Sheffield and Bradford and Manchester and Bristol and Leeds, and it was really quite a tough time and we very rapidly went to a negative balance sheet, we started most weeks with solicitors in the room deciding whether or not we were a going concern, we had to reduce from over 300 people to 70 people, we reduced the spend on build works from £10 million a month to a million a month in a single month without any mitigation and so it really was crisis management for five years and effectively working for the banks and the debt holders, and most of the people in our position simply threw the keys back and disappeared.  But I suppose we had an arrogance, or a stupid optimism or a faith or a belief in the brand, that actually we kept with it, it would be okay.  So, we worked very hard with our stakeholders, we worked very hard with the banks, literally went to see the government to explain to them the situation that actually companies like ours would go to the wall unless there was some sort of support, we helped the government to come up with a system called Kickstart, in the middle of the recession we raised another £50 million from the HSBC and what was then the HCA, and we had a very simple system, we knew we couldn’t sell anything because nobody could get any mortgages but actually half built buildings are worthless, they are worth actually less than nothing,  A very simple strategy, let’s finish everything we’ve got started, we’ll sell what we can which wasn’t much but we’ll rent the rest and so we actually got it all completed and we won a number of awards with those and the ones we couldn’t sell, we rented, and we built up a big rental portfolio that was income producing and started to head back uphill and get some value back, and then did a number of deals to refinance the business and come back out with some headroom at the end of it all.

Susan Freeman

It must have been challenging but I suppose you learn from those sort of experiences.  Now, you mentioned brand and I think since the early days, Urban Splash has always been, you know, really ahead of the game and understood what brand was about and, you know, at a time when the rest of the property sector didn’t really recognise brand as important so, do you think that the rest of the sector has come to terms with the importance of brand or are we still behind the game on that one? 

Tom Bloxham

Well, I think it’s behind the game in other sectors.  If you look at the value of the stock market in I think 1945, 80% of the value of the stock market was in tangible assets, 20% intangible, that’s now reversed and 80% of the value of the stock market today is intangible assets or effectively brand, and if you think about the drinks we drink, the phones we buy, the electrical goods we get, the cars we drive, they are all totally brand driven, and each of those brands is a promise, effectively.  Actually, in property, many people are anonymous and actually wish to remain anonymous and it’s a financial instrument which is fine.  But I believe the future is in brands and I believe the real value is in brands.  But all a brand is, is a promise.  So, if you buy a Ferrari, the promise is a sexy, red, fast, racing Italian machine.  If you buy a Mercedes, the promise is, a reliable, secure, luxurious, German limousine and so on, and so on, and so on.  And so, we are trying to produce a brand at Urban Splash that’s about regeneration, it’s about great design, it’s about affordability, about being cutting edge, about being funky, about being interesting, about being different, about being a disrupter, and we have to keep that promise and keep being consistent. 

Susan Freeman

And getting back to the subject of homes, we have been involved in many round table debates, largely at the Labour and Conservative Party conferences, and it’s a bit like groundhog day, you come back every year and you talk about how we can build more homes, more quickly and you’ve been ahead of the game again, you were one of the first developers into modular housing and I think you set up House in 2017 and you have now acquired a modular construction company.  What are your plans and how do you see modular actually helping to deal with some of those problems?

Tom Bloxham

You know, I believe modular housing is part of the future and part of the way to get additional capacity into our market, and part of the way to actually improve the quality of the product.  And it’s a process of industrialisation and industrialisation isn’t something that happened in Manchester in the eighteen something or other for twenty years, it’s an ongoing process.  For instance, sauces that our mothers and grandmothers would have made in the kitchen, we now buy in packets and jars in the supermarket.  For instance, my first mobile phone that I bought was, cost me two and a half grand, was the size of a car battery, was absolutely useless.  Every time I have bought a new phone, it’s got better and better and cheaper and cheaper and better specified.  I changed my car last year for the first time in ten years.  I bought exactly the same car as I had ten years before, only this time it was 30% cheaper in actual money never mind real value, it was faster, it was better specified.  Everything else in our lives are getting cheaper and better, yet our houses have continued to get more and more expensive and not necessarily any better so, to change that, I think we can use factory production in industrialisation, so we were really fascinated by this.  The honest answer is, probably, well, I don’t know, a couple of hundred are modular houses now, fourth of fifth scheme, maybe a few more than that, and we could have probably built every one of those cheaper and quicker having done it conventionally but I believe it’s the future and we are investing heavily in modular construction.  We are on our fifth of sixth scheme now, we acquired the factory from SIG plc last year, we are investing very heavily in this and the reason we are doing it, is because we can already see the results.  Whenever we do the buildings we’ve done in the past, they’ve all been great but we do Royal William Yard one year, we do Park Hill the next year, we do Chips the next year, every time we make different mistakes and it’s very hard to learn from them.  When you are producing the same product, you are continually improving it, getting better and better and better, again, using the car analogy, we look at Golf or something, we are on the Mark 7 Golf now, every one is better, faster.  We want to do that with housing.  When you are building houses inside the factory, you have got much better tolerances, you can get much better quality, you can really build them quicker, you can build them with better quality, overcome the skills shortage and get a product that actually feels like a modern product made with modern materials.  The way most people build is sort of unchanged since Roman times with a brick, a wet cement, a brick.  It’s very hard to keep the quality, it’s very hard to keep the quality control, it’s very hard to get the skills, you have to battle with the elements.  You imagine, if you ordered a brand new car and one day they delivered the engine on your drive, the next day they delivered the gear box, the next day they delivered the chassis and then they sent it outside in the rain, you’d go mad, yet that’s still how we build a lot of our houses, and clearly the big house builders are incredibly successful, they are making loads of money, more than we will ever make and what they are doing, they are doing very well and very, very efficiently, and they’ll keep doing what they are doing and good luck to them, they are doing a great job but I think we can do something different and bring additionality into the industry. 

Susan Freeman

It makes an awful lot of sense and you have said in the past that the UK will either grab hold of modular and get on board or be left behind.  Have you got other people still coming along with you?  Do you think we are doing okay as a country? 

Tom Bloxham

We are doing okay as a country and certainly other people are coming on board, you know, L&G have made a big investment, Ilke are doing well, Tony Pidgley has bought a factory, numerous other people, Top Hat, dozens of people are coming to do it, yet we are still far, far behind many other countries.  If you go to Australia, if you go to America, if you go to Germany, if you got Japan, if you go to China, if you go to Scandinavia, you will see in other countries a much, much bigger percentage of their houses are made in factories and, you know, I think we’ll see this changing in the UK.  We’ve got a slightly different, we’ve got a slightly different philosophy to most other people because most of the people are manufacturing for third parties.  We believe you actually need to own the whole other process from beginning to end, make real efficiencies, so we want to get vertically integrated.  The other thing we want to do is we want to put a single product through the factory continually to try to get it more and more efficient and we can only do this by having the land, having the sales organisation, doing marketing, doing the whole lot of it and, again, to use a car analogy, you don’t get car factories that build Minis one week and Land Rovers the next week, you have one factory building Minis and one factory building Land Rovers, and I believe to get the maximum capacity, you want to get a single product running through the factory and the secret is to make as many of those same products through as quickly as possible to grow efficiencies. 

Susan Freeman

So, in terms of targets, we are looking at UK targets for modular homes, what should we be looking for in say five years time?

Tom Bloxham

I don’t know, we need another hundred thousand homes, additional hundred thousand homes.  You know, I think you could see a fair degree of those extra ones being made modular.  You know, I think the existing house builders will continue doing what they are doing, they’ve continued doing what they are doing for a long time, so from an Urban Splash point of view, you know, we are executing a business plan a the moment to grow us to two thousand homes a year which will, you know, give us a tiny market share of 1% but it will be quite a substantial business if we can get there. 

Susan Freeman

Just moving in slightly different direction, creativity has always been very important to you and to Urban Splash and you’ve said that artists are at the vanguard of the urban revolution.  Why is creativity so important to you and to what you are doing at Urban Splash?

Tom Bloxham

Why is creativity important?  All sorts of ways to answer that question, it’s a difficult question.  I mean, I suppose in a fundamental way, the art or culture, what separates us from animals, you know, and all animals do is procreate and eat and die and defecate themselves.  We love, you know, whether it’s music or art or architecture or film or whatever your passion is, or for that matter, you know, it’s what inspires us is what makes life interesting, beautiful architecture I think is really important.  I think from an Urban Splash point of view we are very focussed on product and the analogy I use is Apple and IBM.  When we were kids, IBM was a massive company, Apple was a tiny niche company, it was very, very expensive, it was only used by graphic designers and the odd architect.  What Apple did, is focus very, very much on product – product, product, product and design.  Andy they work incredibly hard to make that product better, to sell it in really imaginative ways and you’ve seen the size of Apple grow and grow and grow until now they are the most valuable company in the world, and far outsize IBM and what we certainly want to do with Urban Splash is make beautiful homes and beautiful workplaces, places that we would like to live in and work in ourselves and that’s why, you know, it always annoys me when people talk about unit numbers, we’re not making unit numbers, we are making people’s homes and we want to make those as beautiful as we possibly can and as good places to come and live in.  When I said beautiful, it’s not a stylistic thing that, and people think it’s about matter of taste, it’s not a matter of taste in my view, and I am quite agnostic about design and if you look at the things we’ve done, we’ve done Georgian buildings, we’ve done Victorian buildings, we’ve done Art Deco, we’ve done concrete, we’ve done newbuild, we’ve used minimalist architectures, we’ve used architects like we’ll also have the whole range but certain things I think are really important to you, to have big windows and lots of light, to have high ceilings, to have double aspect homes and apartments, to be on multiple levels, to have great views, to be near water, they ought to have exposed surfaces, all sorts of interesting things that just can make change the quality of your life and make homes beautiful and we are much more interested in doing that than either in the numbers or in the price. 

Susan Freeman

And the government seems to have actually got on board on that agenda and there’s a lot of talk now about, you know, building beautifully and actually caring about quality as well as the quantity of units, as you say. 

Tom Bloxham

There’s certainly a lot of talk about it but, again, it does depress me somewhat that when you are at conferences that you and I attend and numerous of these, when you talk to the private sector, inevitably the conversation turns to net gross and yields and funding and unit numbers and delivery, equally the public sector all too often are talking about value for money, delivery, unit numbers and actually, you know, place making I think is really important but it does take time and energy and a bit of money, a bit of cost, it shouldn’t, you know, good designers aren’t necessarily more expensive than bad design but it takes a lot more effort and hard work to do that and there is a lot of talk about it at high level, it still depresses me when you see what we are actually building both from the private and the public sector that too much of it is actually the mediocre and the planning system that we’ve got in the UK actually awards mediocrity rather than exceptional things. 

Susan Freeman

In terms of exceptional things, I always think that nothing epitomises your style as well as your house in the South of France, the Bubble House, and for our listeners, you actually have to see it to understand how amazing it is, it’s made up of concrete bubbles, everything is circular, I think, as far as I have seen, everything from the windows, the doors, the beds, the sinks, the pools, it’s quite extraordinary and I think also unusual to have bought the house with the famous architect, Antti Lovag, in residence, he actually lived in the grounds for quite a while.  How did you actually come to buy this amazing property?

Tom Bloxham

I was the only person stupid enough.  We were the only people stupid enough, I think, to want to take on this rather strange, half built building that had been started 1969, it spent thirty years in construction, was unfinished, had been built without planning permission, they had rectified it after court case by listing it as we unintentionally when we bought the house, we inherited the architect who was living in the small house in the back garden and it was all a bit of sort of crazy story but it was one of those things where I thought I could possibly do something with it and we spent four of five quite joyous years actually working with Antti Lovag who was 84 when we bought it and 94 when he sadly passed away a couple of years ago, restoring it, building it and bringing it back to the, hopefully the former glory but, yeah, we are very lucky to be able to be part of its restoration and it’s an interest, a modern building, a rare twentieth century listed property in France. 

Susan Freeman

And when you look back over the last 25 years plus of Urban Splash, with the advantage of hindsight, what are the things that you would have done differently?

Tom Bloxham

I mean, there’s a huge number of things that I’d have done differently, whenever I go to, around one of the buildings, people say ‘Oh you must be very proud of this’ and all I see is mistakes, and everyone we’ve made mistakes and we could have done things differently and there’s a huge number of different mistakes we’ve made and, you know, different things we could have done and we could have sold out before the last crash but, actually, you know, je ne regrette rien, regret nothing because I think driving through it all I have been incredibly lucky, I’ve got the best job in the world, it’s like I am a giant full-size Lego set, we’ve never lost our ambition to try to make some really interesting places and some really interesting buildings, I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing people both my colleagues, you know, the only way I have ever got anywhere in life is by surrounding myself with people cleverer and better and more intelligent than me, I’ve got a load of amazing colleagues to work with but also a load of architects and consultants and funders and various other people where we’ve shared a journey with them, we’ve shared an ambition to turn what might be some of the crappiest places in the country into what are now some of the most beautiful places in the country and it’s been a huge joy to come and do that so the mistakes and the ups and downs along the way are really insignificant compared with the journey that we’ve been on and continue to go on and had a lot of fun on that journey as well. 

Susan Freeman

So, if you are giving advice to young people coming in to the real estate sector now, is the advice to surround yourself with people who are cleverer?  What do you say to them?

Tom Bloxham

Well, the first advice is Nike advice, ‘Just do it’.  Yeah, it’s whatever you want to do, just start and do it and the only way you can do it, the only way you learn things is by doing it and you, like me, will make loads of mistakes but you will learn from those mistakes, you will learn very quickly.  So, I suppose the next bit of advice is to, people say I want to become property development, so what should I do?  So I say well become the world expert, yeah, in property values in your area, it could be your street, it could be your village, it could be your town, it doesn’t matter but follow everything, become totally passionate about it, you know get on Right Move, get on those things, yeah, see every property that comes up for sale and some things will come up at the wrong price, then have a real passion, don’t be buying things because someone tells you they are a good investment or they are cheap or it’s a… buy things because you believe in them and you think you can make them great and never develop anything that you wouldn’t want to live in or work in yourself and the I suppose is being absolutely determined, you know, people have said everything we’ve done would never work and, you know, listen to everybody and take as much advice as you can from people you admire and respect but then you have to do what you think’s right and what you really want to do and there’s not one strategy or another strategy that’s right and wrong, it’s about finding the strategy that’s right for you and go and execute it. 

Susan Freeman

And I think you said at the beginning, get used to rejection and I suppose that is something…

Tom Bloxham

Get used to rejection there, yeah, because you get a lot of that. 

Susan Freeman

And in Urban Splash-speak, are you a schemer or a dreamer or both? 

Tom Bloxham

Well, we say schemers and dreamers, so what do we mean by that?  I mean, I think part of that is saying about having a big plan, having a big vision, yeah, and having a dream about the sort of world you want to live in, the sort of buildings you want to build.  But dreams without execution are just daydreams, or ideas without execution are just daydreams and worthless, yeah, and, you know, typically I meet loads of people to be their architects who come and sell you this great idea of a great thing but which is fantastic but you need to be able to fund it, you need to be able to build it, you need to be able to find the land, you need to be able to make it stack up, all these things need meticulous execution and attention to detail and so it’s having that big vision, having the dream and then a relentless attention to detail to make sure you can carry through the execution because without the execution you have nothing. 

Susan Freeman

So, assuming that you do have downtime, what are the sort of things you do when you are not working?

Tom Bloxham

I have plenty of downtime.  I love skiing, I love watching football and we are lucky in Manchester now to have two very great football teams, Manchester United and Manchester United Reserves, I like drinking, I like socialising, but, you know, I work every day of the year, virtually every day of the year but for me, I am very, very lucky, I have found a job to do that I really enjoy doing so, for me, work’s not work, I’m always thinking about work and I am always thinking about ideas and the way we can do things differently and better so for me, that’s fun but I like walking, I’m walking, at the moment, from Manchester to London along the canal towpaths which is an amazing experience, I’ve walked in the past from Flaine where I’ve got a ski place near Chamonix, down to Bubble House near Nice along the GR5 which is an amazing walk, 600 kilometres, up and down over a thousand kilometres every day, I like meeting people, I like socialising, I like things everybody else likes. 

Susan Freeman

And one final question, since you have built a reputation as spotting trends first, what’s going to be the next big thing in real estate?

Tom Bloxham

I am not sure what the next big thing but I think what we do know is there’s some trends that are actually quite obvious but people forget.  One is re-urbanisation.  When we started even thirty years ago, two hundred people lived in Manchester and Liverpool city centres, more and more people are moving to the city centre but actually we are only just seeing the start of that.  Still, in most cities outside London, the most expensive property is not in the city centre but in the outskirts.  In most world cities, you have the city centres the most expensive and as you go in concentric circles it gets cheaper and cheaper.  That’s not happened yet in many cities.  We also haven’t had the full range of facilities moving the city centres like you’ve got in London.  Schools, public transport, shops, cafes, bars, more and more of that is happening and that will continue to happen.  So that’s one big trend, I think.  Another trend is I think we have got an inequality of wealth at the moment between London and the regions that’s unsustainable and by that I mean, depending where you go to, at the top residential values for instance in London are probably, I don’t know, £5000 a square foot, top ones in Manchester are probably £500 a square foot, one of the most valuable cities, it’s a tenfold increase.  London is a great city and l love it and it will always be more valuable than any other city in the UK but should it be ten times the price of the next most valuable city?  I don’t think so.  I think you will see a narrowing of that.  And then a third one, I suppose is one that we touched on before which is modular building and industrialisation of the building process, we are still reliant on itinerant labour.  In every other industry itinerant labour went out in the middle ages, we still rely on it to build most of our houses, that will change, it will increasingly change but we’ll see people’s demand for better quality come forward.  And I suppose the fourth thing is really one of style and we are going to see much more modern design coming in, particularly into housing.  We’ve seen this already in departments but if you take an example, when we were kids, all the furniture you could buy was either antique furniture or reproduction antique furniture and you go into any furniture shop and there’s reproduction Georgian or Victorian furniture.  Today, our houses are filled with very modern furniture with very modern cutlery and crockery, we have modern computers and hi-fi and everything.  The houses most people are building are still actually reproduction pastiche Georgian and Victorian, Edwardian and that will change and the people, the young millennials, the people of the young generation, don’t want to look back on this nostalgia, they want to look forward, they want to use modern materials, they want to use modern design and, you know, fortune favours the brave and I think we will see a big radical change in what our housing looks like going forward, as has already happened in Holland and Germany and Japan and America and most countries. 

Susan Freeman

Well, I thought I knew Tom pretty well but I learnt a few things there.  It was really great to hear from Tom Bloxham, the brand, who’s flouted the rules and defied his detractors every open-toed step of the way, and it sounds as if that is going to continue.  That’s it for now.  I really hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please join us for the next PropertyShe podcast coming shortly.  In the meantime, make sure you check out our PropertyShe website at mishcon.com/propertyshe for all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to download on your Apple podcast app and on Spotify and whatever podcast app you use.  And please do continue to let us have your feedback and comments and, importantly, suggestions for future guests and, of course, you can also follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe for a very regular commentary on real estate prop tech and the built environ.

Tom Bloxham MBE is chairman and founder of award-winning regeneration company Urban Splash, which has received nearly 400 awards to date for architecture, design and business success. The company is responsible for development projects across the country, including Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Bristol, Plymouth and Morecambe.

In 1999 Tom was awarded an MBE for Services to Architecture and Urban Regeneration.

Tom also upholds a number of other positions including Chairman of Manchester International Festival, trustee of Tate, the Manchester United Foundation and The Bloxham Charitable Trust.

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