Darcliffe Homes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Country Estates Group, has an established reputation for building bespoke homes in the Thames Valley. Its latest project in Tilehurst marks a significant new phase for the company.
Darcliffe Homes prides itself on doing things differently from other residential property developers. Its goals are to offer a more personal touch when dealing with homebuyers and to be uncompromising when designing unique homes that enhance their local communities.
The Reading-based company specialises in small and medium-scale developments in sought after areas in the South East. “Our aim is to make our houses superior to the rest,” said joint managing director Graham Denton.
Doing things differently begins at the design stage and goes all the way to the end of the building process. Denton takes great pride in each home and supports homebuyers during the process, making himself responsible for the majority of handovers. “People are surprised the boss is there to give them the keys to their new home,” he said.
With many developers, new homebuyers can usually expect to be offered a shopping list of extras, but Darcliffe takes a different stance when bringing its homes to the market. “We see ourselves as different from our competitors. Whether you are buying a one-bedroom flat or a five-bedroom house, what you see in our show homes, excluding furniture and fittings, is what you get included in the purchase price. There are no hidden extras or surprise costs to our buyers,” said Matthew Jeal, land and planning director, who brought his planning expertise to the company in 2012 to help steer development sites through the increasingly complicated planning process.
The quality focus starts with the design. “Every site we build is bespoke, both internally and externally. We don’t have standard house types that we ‘drag and drop’ from site to site, and we invest a significant amount of time in the design process to ensure the homes we deliver meet our exacting standards,” said Jeal.
The company is proud of the steady stream of positive comments it receives from satisfied customers. “Most buyers tell us they view a lot of new-build properties and say we offer superior quality in terms of materials used, fit-out, finish and the level of workmanship,” noted Jeal.
The Ridings in Tilehurst
After several years in the strategic planning process, the company has just begun construction on its most significant project to date, a 35-home development in Tilehurst. The first residents are expected to receive their front door keys from Denton this autumn.
The Ridings marks Darcliffe’s step up in housing delivery, but as Denton explained, the quality of design and lifestyle of residents will remain an overarching priority: “We received outline planning permission for up to 39 houses at The Ridings, but once detailed layouts were produced they showed that 35 offered a better overall design solution. We have a responsibility to deliver maximum value to landowners, but we do this while creating a fitting development for the local community.”
Darcliffe consulted widely during the early stages of The Ridings, including with district and parish councils, local politicians and the local community. “Taking on board local views is essential for us. We want to be seen as a good developer and neighbour. A lot of our staff live locally and our reputation is key to progressing the company,” said Denton.
Following feedback from discussions, Darcliffe changed its original proposal for the site by including two bungalows. “It was felt that more should be done to address the unmet needs of older residents. Putting in bungalows on a site of this size is almost unheard of,” said Denton.
As well as bungalows, The Ridings’ property mix includes 14 affordable homes that will be sold to a registered social landlord.
Darcliffe is scaling up for future projects of a similar size and larger. “We recently obtained outline planning permission for a 66-home development in Tilehurst, and we are investing significantly in new staff, plant and machinery to deliver the site over the next few years,” said Denton.
Recent additions to its workforce include Ben Longworth (see panel) as construction manager.
Established local reputation
Both Darcliffe and Country Estates are owned by joint managing directors Graham Denton and Gary Smith. Country Estates operates 14 business parks and commercial sites across the South East, mainly in the Thames Valley corridor, that total over 1 million sq ft. They include, among others, Calleva Park, near Aldermaston, and Shrivenham Hundred Business Park, near Swindon, a joint venture with Checkmore.
New construction manager strengthens Darcliffe team
Ben Longworth joined Darcliffe Homes in December 2017 as construction manager. He will oversee The Ridings development in Tilehurst and work on the post-planning design and rollout of future projects.
Longworth had become frustrated with the speed of large-scale construction projects he had previously worked on. He felt a rapid-build strategy often applied in the construction sector wasn’t giving him sufficient time to do his job well.
“Darcliffe’s vision of quality and attention to detail really appealed to me,” he said. “I have the freedom to innovate as we build the next generation of housing stock, for example, by introducing smart technology into houses, and by building things properly.”
Darcliffe was originally part of Reading-based Penta Group. Denton bought the business from Penta and merged it with his Denton and Gibson group in 1989, before joining forces with Smith’s Country Estates in 2009. The business has net assets of over £20m and a workforce of more than 40 people.
“Gary and I have similar interests in commercial and residential. The group has healthy cash reserves, a strong balance sheet, and an appetite to expand activity in the residential sector to diversify and spread risk,” said Denton.
“Our aim with Darcliffe Homes is to build the business organically, with our own resources. As each new site completes, we reinvest in the business and look to start larger projects. We will only expand operations if we are comfortable with what we’re doing,” said Denton.
Other recently completed Darcliffe projects include Watercress Mews in Four Marks, Saxon Meadows and Bluebell Chase in Spencers Wood, and The Martens in Hinton Waldrist. The company has a target of reaching 50 new homes a year, which should be realised in the next three or four years.
Darcliffe always focuses on the people it is building for and encouraging a community feel in its developments. Denton summed it up: “I like to let newcomers know who their neighbours are, and tell residents when new owners are due to arrive. It’s a small touch, but it can make a big difference to people’s lives.”