Words by Dan Warden
Acorn Property Group’s Stuart Brereton talks property development, including community, sustainability, and of course, design.
Acorn Property Group first started as a team of three residential developers, converting and refurbishing houses and other buildings in north London. Since then, it has expanded across the south west to Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, and of course, here in Cornwall. Stuart Brereton is the Regional Managing Director, and Land Director for Acorn Blue – the Cornish arm of the business.
Not long after its inception, Stuart explains how Acorn began working in the London city fringes – “Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and the Southbank” – which he says is where the company really started to grow and gain an appetite for bespoke sites and mixed-use schemes. “We developed some wonderful sites on the Southbank and subsequently opened an office there, and since, have developed more than 50 sites between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge, all of which are bespoke and range from beautiful brick warehouses to modern, mixed-use and office schemes.”
Left: Stuart Brereton | Right: The Liner, a fabulous development by Gyllyngvase beach
So how did Stuart’s role evolve and eventually lead him to a life by the sea? As we’ve discovered, the Acorn Property Group portfolio is nothing short of impressive, and was even before the expansion to Cornwall. Stuart began at Acorn in 2005, based, originally, in the north London office. “It was a very exciting company to be part of as it expanded,” he reveals. “I was fortunate enough to be managing our first acquisitions in Cornwall, which quickly led to us opening an office in Newquay, and over time, I took on the management of the region and eventually made the move down.”
Having an office in the Duchy, Stuart explains, allowed Acorn to explore the whole region, including Devon, and he reveals that it wasn’t long before the company became its leading residential developer. “We found a lot of hotels in prime locations were struggling financially and needed an exit strategy,” reveals Stuart. “Over the years, we have worked with many hoteliers to ensure they get maximum value for their assets,” and with experience developing in stunning locations from St Ives to Salcombe, Acorn has been able to take these sites and transform them into contemporary new developments with myriad uses.
So what sets Acorn Property Group apart; what is the driving force of the company? “‘Different by Design’ is our ethos,” says Stuart. This simple founding principle, he explains, has evolved from the company’s core bespoke approach to site design, “and is at the heart of our design process.”
Indeed, each and every one of Acorn Property Group’s projects are bespoke; the size, number and design of the homes in each development are tailored to suit each particular site and community, and perhaps more important is that, above all else, the team prioritises creativity and sustainability, ensuring the end-user – the home owner – gets the very best from their modern residence.
I’m interested to know, what’s most important to Acorn Property Group as a property developer? Is it location? Interiors? Sustainability? Perhaps all of the above? “We believe a focus on sustainability and wellbeing should be at the absolute forefront of everything we do,” says Stuart. “Our ‘Acorn Green’ initiative represents our commitment to the implementation of the best possible design and technologies to further drive down the carbon footprint of our homes, moving towards long-term sustainable housing in communities.” In terms of location, Stuart tells me that “the south west is the area that we see as the most positive for housing opportunities”, something he attributes to positive population growth, great employment opportunities and improvements in transportation. As he puts it: “Demand far outweighs supply!”
“All in all, our in-house team includes architects, interior designers, town planners, surveyors and construction managers who can be trusted to make the most of every opportunity. Together with our brand, sales and marketing teams, we specialise in creating and delivering the best scheme for every individual site and community.”
So what’s the process, and is it one that’s taken long to perfect? “Each development we design and build is looked at on its own merits,” Stuart explains. “There is no standard layout or design, therefore as technology evolves, so do our homes.” This is an important point, and in fact, the rapid evolution of technology, in many ways, is making for rapid changes in the way we live our lives. As Stuart says: “The way in which we live is constantly changing,” and Acorn’s innovative approach ensures that each new development responds to these lifestyle needs in a proactive way.
“We take what we call a ‘fabric-first’ approach,” Stuart expands. Starting by maximising the performance of what Stuart calls “the building envelope”, Acorn then look at ways to further improve the building’s sustainability. In fact, Stuart tells me that many of their schemes involve re-using existing buildings, and the environmental upshots of repairing, refurbishing and saving buildings from demolitions are huge, minimising disruption to the local community, reducing pollution, and ensuring the best use of natural resources.
These last few points are critical. Right now, Cornwall’s property market is extremely buoyant, and so there is increasing demand from the kinds of homes that companies like Acorn Property Group can offer prospective buyers. Which is obviously great, but as developers continue to cater to this rising demand, those who live here need the kind of reassurances that Acorn Property Group can offer – that it always places the welfare of community, and the importance of sustainability, at the top of its list of priorities.
Ultimately though, Cornwall stands to benefit greatly from the kind of inward investment that homes such as those from Acorn can entice. I think we can all agree that Cornwall has got to be one of the most desirable areas of the UK, and in fact, trading a home near the city for a retirement in Cornwall has been a popular choice for time immemorial. But in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, many who are still at working age have started to realise the benefits that a life in Cornwall has to offer, and when you add that to an increase in the number of people working from home – who will continue to do so even after things return to normal – this opens up a world of options for those who were previously tied to the city for work.
There is also a marked increase in the number of people buying a holiday let here in the Duchy. “The pandemic has limited international travel and therefore many people are opting for a staycation instead,” says Stuart. In fact, he continues: “It’s reported that more than 77% of British people aspire to own a UK holiday home, with Cornwall as the most popular destination of choice. We’re finding that investing in a second home, with the added potential of income via holiday letting, is a more attractive opportunity than ever.” The benefit, as Stuart puts it, is a boost to the local economy, particularly “when owners holiday let during peak seasons, and use themselves during the quieter months, providing a much longer tourism season for local businesses.”
And it isn’t only the tourism industry that Acorn Property Group is proud to support. Community is at the very heart of what the company does, and as Stuart says: “We strive to put the needs of our communities first – whether that’s creating jobs in local areas, or creating homes that are accessible for a range of buyers,” from those just getting on the ladder and growing families, to down-sizers or investors. “Where possible we also create jobs for local people by contracting work to local trades and by sourcing local materials. This,” says Stuart, “is great for the local economy and also from an environmental perspective, to reduce travel times for materials. We often use Cornish stone in our projects; it’s a distinctive local material and works well with modern architecture.” It is also, he explains, “a great material to keep the ‘local’ connection with our contemporary designs.”
As Cornish property continues to be coveted from buyers across the UK, and as demand increases for contemporary new homes in some of the county’s most desirable locations, it’s reassuring to know that Acorn Property Group is here, championing the fundamental Cornish values of community and sustainability – values that have perhaps never been closer to our hearts.