Iain Sim heads up Coast & Country, one of the region’s biggest regeneration and housing companies. Joanne Welford went to meet him.
Name: Iain Sim
Born: Lanark, Scotland
Family: Married with a 13-year-old daughter
Likes: Football - Manchester United and Aberdeen - music, reading
Dislikes: Unfairness - “it really does annoy me”
Strengths: Single minded, committed, honest - “I’m a good listener”
Weaknesses: “Sometimes I can be a bit impatient, sometimes I can take risks when I don’t need to”
IT was luck that brought Iain Sim to our neck of the woods.
Working down South, he spotted an advert for a job in Langbaurgh and was, he smiles, intrigued by the name.
He applied, took a drive up the A19 and from that moment on there was no going back.
He found himself hooked by the scenery and countryside that surrounds Teesside and that, together with the chance to take a step up the promotional ladder, proved the right ingredients to up sticks and move North.
More than 15 years later, he’s still here and loving it.
Iain took the job as director of housing at Langbaurgh which later became Redcar and Cleveland Council.
Ten years ago, when the council’s housing stock was transferred across to the new and not-for-profit company Coast & Country, he transferred with it.
“It was just luck that brought me here,” says the affable Scot.
“I was down in South Beds, working in housing as an assistant director.
“The job came up - director of housing in Langbaurgh - it was an intriguing name.
“At the time I was ready for promotion, wherever that directorship might have been. I felt it was an opportunity, applied for the job and got it.
“I thought this would be a lovely place to live.”
As chief executive of Coast & Country, Iain is responsible for one of the North-east’s biggest regeneration and housing companies.
The business manages more than 10,000 homes across Redcar and Cleveland, employs a workforce of more than 500 and is committed to developing and regenerating housing and communities across the area.
It has also recently launched its own development company.
Iain also believes passionately in creating local jobs for local people and, where it can, Coast & Country supports that - including offering apprenticeships to the area’s young people.
Sometimes, he laughs, his daughter asks what it is exactly he does all day.
“I talk a lot,” he smiles, “At least, I think that’s what she thinks.
“Sometimes it is said we are a business with a social conscience.
“But we are a multi-faceted company - we don’t just manage 10,000 homes, we provide a housing care and support service to 6,000 people, we develop and regenerate estates, we develop our workforce and we also work outside the borough on projects in Darlington, Scarborough, Middlesbrough, Bishop Auckland.
“It’s about investing properly in communities in terms of people, too.
“I have a finger in all of those pies, I’m interested in everything we do.
“Of course we’re also here to survive and be viable. When we set up we secured £250m funding from partners including the Nationwide Building Society. We have got to pay that mortgage and each stream has got to be efficient to pay that.
“We could just collect rents but we believe we’ve got an obligation to help our communities. We work in some of the most deprived communities in England and Wales - hence the reason why we invest heavily.”
That he loves his job is evident - but he’s not alone.
Last month march Coast & Country was named in a top 100 list of the UK’s best organisations to work for.
The Sunday Times poll said staff reported low stress, 73% of the workforce voting the company “positive”.
Walk into the reception area of Coast & Country’s Dormanstown HQ and you are, indeed, greeted by a friendly smile.
It is pleasantly pink and there’s an information voiceover playing in the background - interestingly, the accent is very definitely Teesside as opposed to one of those placeless voices. It is refreshing to hear.
Iain and his team were “chuffed” with the survey results.
“For 530 staff to say they are really proud to work for the company and in what we are doing is great.”
Our interview takes place on the day the Government announced an ease in the planning laws in a bid to aid more new developments.
Is Iain in favour?
His answer is mixed. It is, he says, going to take more than that to solve the housing crisis.
“The devil is going to be in the detail,” he says.
“There’s no doubt there is a massive housing crisis in this country when it comes to affordable housing.
“There’s no real concerted plan - how is that going to go forward?
“There’s a lack of confidence in the economy, a lack of available mortgages.
“We’ve got to get away from that British perception that if you don’t own your own home, you have failed.
“We can provide good quality, well managed housing - in many European countries, that’s a given.”
He’s also got a salvo to fire at the Right To Buy scheme - first aired under Margaret Thatcher to give council tenants the opportunity to buy their homes and recently revitalised by David Cameron’s Government.
“In the early days it gave a lot of people their own home, but in the longer term it reduced supply,” says Iain.
“The Government says for every one sold there will be a replacement one provided.
“ I think the last one sold for £17,000 - tell me where you can build a house for that money?”
Supporting local communities is something he feels strongly about, both when it comes to regenerating areas and helping people find affordable homes to live in.
He’s also very proud of how far the company has come.
With 1,000 new homes in the pipeline and development sites under constant review, it’s a rolling programme.
“I’m not just proud of one thing,” he says.
“When the company was first set up, we moved over from the council and had to stand on our own two feet, we had to get more businesslike.
“I’m proud of the fact we’ve got a regeneration programme.
“I’m also proud of the fact we set up a new company and have started to develop and build.”