Tag: wear homes

Opening doors in Sunderland

Posted on by Alex Kirtley

Powered by family values, Kirtley Co and Wear homes are doing good things for the place they call home. Portfolio North editor, Jessica Laing, chats to managing directors, Alex Kirtley and James Parkinson, about the parallels between their thriving businesses and their shared mission to make Sunderland a better place to live and work.

They say never mix family with business, but for Kirtley Co and Wear homes, it’s proved to be a recipe for success.

Family-owned and ran for over 40 years, Kirtley Co is a key player in Sunderland’s commercial property space. A landlord, developer and renovator in one, the business is responsible for transforming unused and unloved sites into high-spec workspaces for companies big and small.

Places like Kirtley Co. in Middlesbrough – now home to several flexible office spaces – alongside warehousing and self-storage sites in Peterlee, business units in Leechmere, Deptford and Southwick and, perhaps most notably, Sunderland’s historic Mackie’s Corner – one of the flagship projects in the city’s ongoing regeneration.

Today, managing director, Alex Kirtley, and her sister, Toni, sit proudly at the helm, determined to steer the business forward and carry on what their father, Henry, started all those years ago.

For Wear homes, it’s a similar story. Also spearheaded by family, it’s another local business making its mark in Wearside’s property landscape – only this time with a focus on residential homes.

Founded just over a decade ago by managing director and property specialist, James Parkinson, the business provides quality affordable housing in and around Sunderland – including properties surrounding the latest city centre developments.

The properties – some of which are ex council houses – are immaculately refurbished to offer a higher standard of living and tenants are sourced and supported by James and his trusted team, which now includes his sister and other family members.

Alex and James – both in their early thirties – met during their schooldays and have remained friends ever since.

Today, they’re allies in business, too, sharing the same ambition to improve Wearside’s standard of living and working, shine a light on why it’s a great place to put down roots and help boost and grow local communities. All with the support of those closest to them.

“I’m a huge advocate for businesses supporting other businesses – especially those that operate in the same space,” says Alex.

“Recently, someone asked me who our competitors are and I had no clue how to answer that question. Because I don’t see other people or companies who are doing similar things to us as competitors – in my eyes, we’re all on the same side.”

“Kirtley Co and Wear homes are interlinked in many ways – not only are we both family-owned and led, we both share the same goal, which is to improve Sunderland’s reputation as a place to do business and live happily. Why wouldn’t we want to support each other?”

“We’ve both created quite a niche for ourselves – affordable family homes and affordable luxury workspaces – and so we’ve always been on hand to lend advice, share experiences and offer up suggestions and ideas to one another,” adds James.

“It’s nice to be able to lean on each other and share our expertise and insights because everyone benefits – not just ourselves as business owners, but more importantly, our tenants.”

“Like Wear homes, Kirtley Co also shares the same strong family values and lead as a personal service, which is also really important and a reason why we relate to one another so much.”

“They also have a small turnover of tenants, like we do, and they recognise the importance of building trusted, long-term relationships with them. Our business model and work ethic are very similar. There’s a lot of common ground there,” he says.

Today, both businesses are playing their part in Sunderland’s ongoing regeneration, which has seen the city slowly rise from underdog to top dog in recent months.

Following private sector investments of over £2 billion, several significant commercial, leisure, public sector and residential developments are now in the works to help reinvent Sunderland as a dynamic business location and a vibrant place for community life and culture.

Boosted by local businesses such as Kirtley Co and Wear homes, the aim is to change people’s impressions of the area and put it on the map as a desirable, up-and-coming place for work and play. 

For Alex and James, it’s a welcomed shift – and a movement they’re proud to contribute to.

“Thinking back to when we bought Mackie’s Corner, for example, there was no investment happening in the city centre. Mackie’s was a derelict building and the area was in total decline. It was really sad to see,” recalls Alex.

“Buying there was a huge risk, but our hope was that, if we invest, perhaps it will inspire others to do the same – and together we can begin to turn things around and unlock the city’s potential.”

“In our case, we wanted to set the bar for future investors by creating luxury, yet affordable, workspaces. We wanted to show businesses what could be made possible.”

“It was – and still is – about changing people’s perspectives, so we’re thrilled to see much-needed changes happening and more businesses popping up in and around the city.”

“It’s definitely been a long time coming,” echoes James, who grew up in East Herrington.

“Similarly to Kirtley Co, Wear homes is dedicated to raising Sunderland’s profile and driving as many people to the city and surrounding areas as possible – including the lesser-known postcodes that we deal with, which have been overlooked in the past.”

“It’s an exciting time for people – couples, individuals and families – to invest and make Sunderland their home. You could say we’re bias, but it really is a fantastic place to live, with so much to offer.”

“It’s full of friendly, down-to-earth people, it’s really accessible with great transport links – you can travel between the city, countryside and beach all within no time at all – and its leisure and hospitality scene is going from strength to strength.”

In an extra bid to keep more people in Sunderland and grow bigger and better communities, Wear homes – which recently hit an impressive milestone of 100 properties made available as quality affordable housing – also offers tenants the opportunity to eventually own their rented property as part of its rent-to-buy scheme.

And in 2024, James and his team will be releasing another scheme to help bring more investors into the residential housing market. In true Wear homes fashion, it will be a personalised service, geared towards investors who are looking to grow their portfolios in Sunderland and expand their offering.

“The current demand for rental housing is the strongest we’ve seen it over the past decade and we believe this will continue into next year, bringing new and exciting opportunities,” says James.

 “Although we’re active in multiple housing strategies, supplying affordable homes across Wearside remains our priority and we’re looking forward to literally opening more doors to more people.”

For more information about Kirtley Co, visit kirtleyco.co.uk. For information about Wearhomes, visit wearhomes.com or contact James at james@wearhomes.com

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