Chairman of Weston Homes Bob Weston talks to Janice Morley
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Bob Weston, 66, has spent the last 34 years building homes. Ironically he grew up without a permanent home. His father, an RAF radar operative, was involved in the Cold War mission to keep track of Russian activity. Bob, his two sisters and their brother were moved around every two years when their father’s posting changed.
Aged 16, Bob left Haverhill secondary modern school in Suffolk for technical college, where he met his teacher and mentor, Harry Meekings. Harry’s passion for carpentry, technical training, creative thinking and problem solving inspired the teenage Bob, who graduated as an electrical engineer and landed his first job with residential developer and homebuilder Fairview, involved in London and the South-East. Within 12 years Bob had moved from trainee in construction management to Construction Director. Then at 32, when he could have remained in his steady, senior job, he left to strike out on his own.
He swapped his luxurious company car for a pick-up truck and converted the room above his home garage into an office. He was married to Jackie. They had baby Claire, six months, the first of their two children… and no salary coming in. “For the first hour on the first day of my independent life, I sat there thinking, What have I done?” Bob recalls. “Then I started looking for building plots. I found three, hired a digger and bought the land.” Bob still loves a digger. That day he dug a ditch for an access road and with hired help, went on to build three houses.
Six years later, he moved into his first proper offices to run Weston Homes.
FAST FORWARD TO TODAY
Thirty four years later, Bob is a huge success story. And he has earned all the rewards, including a newly converted house in Essex, complete with a pristine stable of classic cars. His absolute favourites are his Reliant Robins. For 10 years there has been a Reliant Robin Continental Rally, in which he shares the laughs with his equally car-mad son, Shaun, and a bunch of mates. His mates are important, he goes on golf holidays with 12 long-standing friends is an annual event: a 30-year tradition and Bob plays for pleasure, saying he is not a club competitions man.
Both of his children have engineering degrees and work in the company. Claire, his eldest, with a degree in electronic and system engineering, worked in IT policing investment bank security before joining Weston Homes 4 years ago as their Compliance Officer.
Shaun runs the Weston Homes high tech, super streamlined new factory creating many of the homes units and fittings. Bob is immensely proud of his children, who have inherited his work ethic and demands for the highest quality.
Building sites are his second home. He will take his partner Tatiana for a drive on a Sunday to visit one, and site plans are his bedtime reading, especially if there is a problem to solve. He will pore over a site plan with as much relish as he will a good menu and a fine wine list.
From his first-floor boardroom in his contemporary new offices in Stansted, Essex he runs his £300 million company. There are gyms with freshly laundered towels provided daily for the staff, who tend to stay with the company for years. And the annual staff family fun day each summer in his garden is legendary.
Weston Homes has a well-deserved reputation for providing sustainable, high-quality apartments and houses at remarkably reasonable prices. Bob has thousands of properties under construction but quality control is important to him.
He can crack a problem on a tricky site that other developers would not touch, and relishes the challenge of saving a majestic listed building to give it a new life as new homes.
He sees the sense in building near transport links and a town centre, reasoning that modern, busy people want convenience and cycle racks – and commuters do not like paying for parking. He has spent millions on a hi-tech, precision build factory to control and check various components for installation into the properties, which in turn means all buyers of a Weston Homes two-bedroom flat, for example, get a lot of luxury for less than £500,000.
With working from home to some degree set to continue for many people, first-time buyers are moving further out of London to areas where they can get more property for their money. In Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, Weston Homes is currently selling two bedroom apartments for less than £300,000. “Buyers should be getting value for money. Money is hard to come by,” Bob insists.
And he should know.
Q: Do you set yourself goals?
A: Small goals. I take small bites. Big dreams can be expensive mistakes.
Q: How has building homes changed since you started the company?
A: Building homes has become a complex business, with multiple interested parties with differing opinions. The red tape is now wider and longer. As part of the planning process we always price good initiatives for the community – build a school, renovate a church, build a car park or develop a culture club but if one group does not like the overall plan, it can all get thrown out which can which can be really disappointing.
Q: You enjoy a challenge don’t you?
A: Yes, I like solving problems. I know I can take an unloved, derelict, historic building that no-one else will touch and transform it into stunning new homes, at the same time as preserving its heritage and glorious facade.
Q: Buyers are really impressed with what they get thrown in for the asking price when they buy a Weston Home: hi-tech bathroom fittings such as temperature controlled, water-saving taps and steam-free mirrors; kitchens with instant boiling water taps, quartz stone worktops and seamless surfaces, even hidden washing-up liquid dispenser holders and built-in chopping boards. Plus fitted bedroom wardrobes, carpets and a big range of on-trend colour schemes to choose from, for everything from tiles to floor coverings. How – and why – do you do it?
A: I give value for money. I like quality in my own life. I don’t like bad workmanship. Last weekend I couldn’t find the garden chairs I wanted at the right price, so I made some in my workshop at home and saved myself a fortune!
Q: How do you achieve best value?
A: When I could not get the quality at the right price I built a factory to make our own components. My son Shaun runs it. What we have learnt is that parts made in our factory are quality controlled; parts lying around on a building site may not be; they’re vulnerable to being ruined by weather, can get damaged, and there is far more waste. Now we in-source everything we can. Our factory has daylight lighting, is warm and organised and there is constant quality control. We only cut and make what we need.
Q: When it was all running smoothly you were hit by lockdown. How did you cope?
A: Drama is part of our lives. When we had the recession, we thought that would bring us down. Lockdown had so many more possible scenarios where it could all fall apart. Sites were shut, overseas construction workers went home, then needed to get back. Sales suites were closed. We had a lot of meetings in the boardroom as we went from one drama to the next. But we are now in a strong position.
Q: Which car are you driving home tonight?
A: An electricity-driven Porsche. I like to embrace new technology.
Bob Weston parks his Porsche in his garage next to a bright yellow vintage Post Office van. You could say that, in a way, it sums up his life’s journey.