Freeman Homes celebrates its 10th Anniversary
A special milestone in the fascinating development of the entrepreneurial Freeman family business centred on Drybrook, Gloucestershire, has been reached this year.
It marks the tenth anniversary of Freeman Homes which has carried out a rich variety of quality building projects in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire.
But this truly organic story really began over 40 years ago when company founders Mervyn and Jenny Freeman decided to diversify the farm contracting business into plant hire and then ground works contracting. Both divisions, contracting and plant hire have since carried out a wide range of civil engineering and groundwork projects. They have specialised in infra-structure for housing or commercial schemes, commercial buildings, drainage schemes, river and coastal protection and heavy earthmoving. Company founder Mervyn Freeman is passionate about machinery and takes pride in operating an extensive plant fleet, which is operated on their own projects and available for external hire..
From contracting, it was a short but logical step for the company to diversify into the building of industrial unitsfor lease. The first development they completed for their own account was an industrial unit located on Newent Business Park which they still rent out to the same client today, fifteen years later
Being raised in such an entrepreneurial business environment, it was not altogether surprising that his eldest son Luke decided to study for a degree in construction management whilst being employed by international construction company Taylor Woodrow. Having qualified and gained much invaluable experience, it was a natural next step for him to join his parents in the family firm. Luke worked as an engineer for Taylor Woodrow so immediately put these skills to good use in managing projects within the contracting division..
With a keen eye for property development he had a desire to promote this within the family business. He was able to satisfy his desire with his first project which involved the extension and conversion of a property which had been bought a few years earlier by the company. In 1999 at the age of 23 the project was completed and sold for a good profit. Luke commented “I remember selling the house to someone during the conversion however they changed their mind and pulled out. I was disappointed and the agent said that it was a sign of the market and it was about to crash. We quickly reduced the price and it sold straight away. Several years later that same property sold for several hundred thousand pounds more than what we sold it for which is an indication of how volatile the market can behave.” .
From that small beginning a new division, Freeman Homes, expanded steadily with imaginative barn conversions and sympathetic new builds offering a sought after alternative to the mass market brands. Shortly after this the company created another specialist division building business parks with buildings for sale or lease.
Then in 2003 an opportunity came along to acquire elegant Bishopswood House at Ross-on-Wye and the family saw the potential not only for its conversion into homes but also for the development of an hotel, weddings, conference and banqueting venue. Planning permission was granted and Freeman Homes, created seven new properties by sub dividing part of the main house and converting outbuildings. While working on the conversion of Bishopswood House, a local pub, The Spread Eagle at nearby Walford, came up for sale and the idea of acquiring it and creating a new division called Freeman Leisure was conceived. The pub was extensively refurbished and re-named The Mill Race which was a former name of the pub.
The hotel, set in lovely gardens, now provides the perfect wedding venue for up to 250 guests, while the Mill Race has been recently awarded The Publican Food Pub of the Year 2009 and has won wide acclaim for its excellent locally sourced cuisine including meat and game from the family farm and the Bishopswood estate.
The group certainly does not believe in letting the grass grow under its feet and today work is progressing steadily on a number of commercial fronts.
Freeman Homes, which has built out 26 housing schemes ranging from single properties to developments of 12 homes over the past ten years, is now completing the infrastructure for a site of 49 new properties at Gloucester Road, Mitcheldean.
Luke commented “We have several exciting schemes in our development pipeline which include a block of luxury apartments in Ross, a contemporary scheme of luxury townhouses in Bristol, a one off contemporary house in Weston-Under-Penyard, a scheme of social housing in Littledean, a scheme of holiday lodges in the Forest of Dean, and a town centre development in Monmouth.”
The firm has also secured permission for an innovative sub-terrainian house in Lansdown Crescent in Montpellier in the heart of regency Cheltenham. The scheme, which has the backing of the influential Civic Society, has been designed in such a way not to adversely affect a neighbouring listed building. The Civic Society commented “The approach taken by this ingenious proposal has much to commend it.”
Meanwhile, Freeman Commercial has just finished phases one and two of an extensive redevelopment of a redundant 6 acre business park. The new Alton Business Park at Ross-on-Wye will offer 100,000 sq ft of space for industrial, retail and office use and 60 per cent of the first two phases is already sold or let.
Luke said “We are delighted to be pressing ahead with the completion of further units on this development in these difficult market conditions. I believe business owners recognise that in these difficult times it is essential to remain as efficient as possible and this includes ensuring that businesses property requirements are effectively meet with modern purpose built faculties.
The company has recognised that their market sectors are under pressure from the current economic conditions so they are in the process of using their current resources to diversify into new sectors where they see greater opportunities for the future. To this end they have just set up another new division named Freeman Care which seeks to take advantage of our ageing population. They have recently been granted planning consent for a new care village at Newent and have several other schemes in the pipeline.
Looking to the future on the Leisure side of the business they are currently planning the development of 24 holiday lodges in the heart of the Forest of Dean. They are currently seeking to change the planning consent to allow them to be used as second homes and hope to start works in the new year.
From its hillside base at the Ruardean Works, in Drybrook, with views across to the Black Mountains, MF Freeman, is still very much a family business despite its diverse growth.
While Mervyn and his son Luke oversee the core business, Jenny runs the Bishopswood House wedding venue and the financial side of the group business. Luke’s partner Hayley is in charge of human resources, sales and marketing for the Mill Race pub and interior design for all the property developments. Luke’s sister Rebecca also works within the business being in charge of the bar at Bishopswood House.
And again looking to the future, the couple’s youngest son Richard, aged 22, is busy creating even more green shoots for this remarkably entrepreneurial family.
He has just launched Freeman Forestry Division which specialises in woodland management, forestry, tree surgery, firewood and site clearance