The decisive outcome in the pre-Christmas election of 2019 was felt by many to pave the way for 2020 to be a positive year of investment and growth. That sense of greater optimism was relatively short lived as the global pandemic took hold and by the end of March the country was in complete lockdown.
What followed in the subsequent months has been extraordinary in many ways and will likely remain a defining period in all our lives, both personally and professionally. Just how much our lives will have been changed by coronavirus will take some years to determine, but it is already clear that working patterns have changed for good and are very unlikely to go back to where they were.
As an organisation the RO Group has stood up extremely well to the challenges presented over the last fifteen months, with the whole team adapting to and engaging with new ways of working very effectively. Indeed, notable progress has been made across many areas of our business.
In common with most commercial real estate businesses, the challenge over the last year has been managing landlord and tenant relationships and maintaining rent collection to the best level possible. In this regard we have been very fortunate to have tenants that have worked with us and recognised the importance of that landlord / tenant relationship.
On an equally positive note we have also achieved three significant disposals in 2021 so far. In January we completed the sale of our 40,000 sq ft office building in Weybridge to Surrey County Council. This was followed in March with the sale of our 29,000 sq ft office in Bristol and most recently that of Napier Court in Reading to the development arm of Bowmer and Kirkland, Peveril Securities.
Our focus has now moved to the reinvestment of those disposal proceeds, both in terms of acquiring new assets, be they buildings or land, as well as investing in existing projects. In that specific regard we have recently commenced construction of eleven trade counter units at Helix Solstice Park just off the A303 in Wiltshire. We also have outline planning for a further 140,000 sq ft of B1, B2 and B8 use on the same site.
Planning has been secured on another parcel of land at Solstice Park for two “drive thru” units and electric vehicle charging points, with construction due to start in the autumn.
Helix Trade Park
Similarly this second pair of images shows a property in Lytham St Annes. This was originally acquired with two floors of tired offices above retail. With a strong location underpinning the investment opportunity we were able to gain planning to add an extra floor to the building, convert the office space into a Travelodge hotel and considerably improve the value of the retail element by adding a M&S Simply Food and Costa to the parade.
GNR8 Clarendon Road, Watford
Refurbishment works at our office building on Clarendon Road in Watford, branded GNR8, were completed either side of the lockdown and three new tenants have taken up occupation since practical completion. The refurbishment works at Waterside Place in Southampton are now almost complete with a developing list of tenant interest.
With the RO's history in ground mounted solar development, a planning application has been made for a 5MW solar park on part of our 140-acre site to the west of Milton Keynes. Similar solar development opportunities are currently being sought.
Two new RO businesses have been started during the past year. The first being RO Land, a greenfield / brownfield land promotion business targeting opportunities in the northern Home Counties and CaMkOx arc. To date we have secured four sites for residential promotion, with many others under consideration. This vehicle is also looking for land for both commercial and alternative use development up to 50 acres.
Additionally, we have set up a development capital arm called RO Capital Partners with the specific intention of investing in early stage proptech, cleantech and fintech companies where the RO’s existing real estate platform and wider relationships can be used to support the development of those businesses.
We have recently completed our first investment in an online property auction business called Bamboo Auctions and are close to agreeing terms on a second and a third investment in software businesses focused on eliminating wasted energy in commercial buildings. ROCP is certainly an exciting new venture for the Group which perfectly complements the underlying ‘in business to do business’ principles of the RO and I'm hoping to add several more investments in the coming months.
Our housebuilding arm, Metis Homes, has successfully ridden the wave of housing demand with record breaking completion numbers in the second half of 2020/21. A significant number of new sites are finding their way through planning and in the process of construction commencing, and having further strengthened our land team we are actively seeking new opportunities and partnerships to grow our land bank. I’m also pleased to announce that Metis has acquired the remaining 48% of its joint venture company Mapledean Projects, to further enhance our own build capabilities. With this integration becoming effective from April 1st, the two businesses now operate as one from our new office in Fair Oak in Hampshire.
Burlington Place, Winchester
King Edward VII Estate, Midhurst
The Hygge Collection
Meadow Retreat at Southern Halt, Cornwall
As a holiday accommodation business Charteroak’s year has obviously been heavily impacted by coronavirus both negatively, when the sites were forced to close for eight months of the past year, but also positively as record levels of bookings were experienced last summer when the sites finally reopened in July. Currently, and looking forward, the staycation phenomenon continues to drive high demand for UK holidays. We have invested in a new range of holiday lodges under the ‘Hygge Collection’ brand, embracing the Scandinavian philosophy of comfort and wellbeing. New private amenities within the lodges include cinema rooms, saunas, games rooms and even gyms.
As with all businesses having good people is our most important asset and never more so than in handling what’s been thrown at us over the last year. Whilst the pandemic inevitably required an element of retrenchment, the RO is now most certainly looking forward as I’ve highlighted above. With this forward view, and with people in mind, we have recently launched the RO Internship programme where we will be taking on three school leavers / graduates at the start of September and providing a 12 week structured programme with the prospect of a full time role at the end of it. This is new territory for the RO but I know that the team are really looking forward to supporting, developing and witnessing the next generation of RO ‘in business to do business’ recruits coming forward.
These remain both uncertain times and equally those of profound change. I could never have seen myself working from home fifteen months ago and yet now, like many people, I can see some real benefits that will flow from striking the right balance between being in the office interacting with colleagues and having productive time spent working at home. That basic human need for face-to-face contact will not change and life will, of course, adapt to the ‘new normal’, whatever that ends up being.
Although inevitably some restrictions will remain in place for a while longer the prognosis on coronavirus is becoming more positive and I really do hope that I will be able to see many more of you in person this year in some capacity.
The RO has successfully weathered the storms over the last year and has put itself in a position where we can look forward with optimism and explore new opportunities. This would not have been possible without the support, hard work and adaptability of the home team, as well as the wider network, and my thanks go to each and every one of you for all you have contributed during this time.
We can all agree that the last fifteen months have been challenging, and a period of time unlike anything we have experienced before, but the RO very much remains ‘in business to do business’ and the team and I look forward to hearing from you with opportunities that you feel may suit us, in whichever area of our business that may be.
You may be new to the RO Group or you may have been working with us for many years. Whichever it is I hope, from the brief summary above, that you will now have a broader understanding of where the business is today and be in a better position to work with us on new ventures in the future.
Group Managing Director