The Larkfleet Group of Companies is an award-winning, major developer of sustainable energy projects, an investor in sustainability focused Research and Development (R&D) projects and a provider of energy-efficiency improvements for new and existing buildings. The Group is privately owned by chairman Karl Hick and his wife, Managing Director Helen Hick.
Chairman Karl Hick’s ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ led to the establishment of this unique group of businesses with a focus on sustainability that sets it apart from competitors. The group of companies are well suited to work together on many projects and share their different skill sets with others in the group to offer an unrivalled service to clients and customers.
Karl’s early career was in chemistry and then accountancy. He joined construction company McAlpine after responding to an advert in The Sunday Times that was seeking a finance director who was also an international athlete – Karl had the accountancy qualifications and also national and international athletic running experience.
In 1987 while working for Wiggins GP PLC, a docklands property developer, Karl was asked to move to Spalding, Lincolnshire, to oversee the financial integration of this private company into a PLC. Karl knew that Allison was a profitable company trading under a successful and recognised name and agreed a deal to acquire the business with funding provided by Midland Bank.
The company grew from a zero turnover to £22 million in 2001, the business was sold for £30 million in September 2001.
Karl’s agreement with the purchaser of Allison Homes prevented him from working in the property sector for a while so he turned his attention to the waste industry. After a two year absence and after floating a joint venture on the AIM market – Karl was able to establish Larkfleet as a vehicle for a return to the property industry.
Innovation and new approaches
Karl initially set up Larkfleet Group to be focused entirely on housebuilding through flagship companies Larkfleet Homes and Allison Homes.
However, recognising the opportunity and demand for diversification in the housebuilding and construction industry, he expanded the company both to develop more energy-efficient and sustainable homes. The group then comprised a number of companies covering all these areas that share a common philosophy of ‘sustainable development’, embracing sustainability in all its many aspects.
Larkfleet Group’s investment in R&D projects in particular gives the company a competitive advantage both now and in the future. Some of its research projects have the potential to revolutionise the construction industry.
In order to give sharper focus to the group’s R&D activities, and to co-ordinate these across group companies, Karl has established a team responsible for expanding Larkfleet Group’s involvement with a variety of new energy technologies. Its tasks will include leading the group’s activities in technology commercialisation, creating innovative business structures for new project development opportunities and advancing new funding routes for multiple business units within Larkfleet Group.
Larkfleet Group, as part of a consortium of companies, developed by Startlink Lightweight Building Systems (SLBS) was a project which was supported by funding from the government’s Technology Strategy Board – an endorsement of the potential national significance of the technology being developed.
A ‘Larkfleet PassiveHouse’ – which was built to Passivhaus and Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6 standards. It showed how lightweight pultruded glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) composite beams and panels could revolutionise the way in which homes are built. The house was designed to be ‘factory built’ using modular components that can be mass produced off-site and then easily installed on site with minimal labour and site waste, allowing the building to be completed in much less time than a traditionally built house.
Looking to the future, the potential for them to be built on foundations which would rise in response to flooding – keeping the houses themselves entirely clear of the water, making it possible to develop housing where it is not currently viable because of potential flooding.
The ‘solar steam’ system consists of panels which focus the sun’s rays onto metal tubes filled with water. This heat can be harnessed to heat water or to produce steam which can be used to drive a generator to produce electricity. The panels are mounted on a rig which rotates to track the movement of the sun through the sky during the day.
A prototype installation sat alongside Larkfleet House produced only a small amount of steam for experimental purposes. One of the objectives was to test the effectiveness of the equipment in British weather conditions – it proved possible to produce some power even on cold and cloudy days. The equipment proved to be successful, however, the major market is likely to be in warmer countries where there is sunshine for long periods of the year. Larkfleet has already had interest from Pakistan and Mexico and is talking to UKTI about support for exporting to these countries and others. Contracts have already been signed in Nairobi.
The X House introduces a brand new solution to sustainable urban living. Larkfleet Group are designing a structure allowing people to live in prime locations around the UK above pre-existing fully operational car parks.
X House developments can be erected quickly with minimal disruption to the existing car park and minimal intrusion into the ground. The X House provides an effective solution for developments in any restricted space. This could be hotels increasing capacity using their existing car parking space. We have a range of house type options available, suitable for disability living, families, young professionals and more bespoke units that can be used commercially.
Personal integrity and involvement
Karl has always had a ‘hands on’ management style and in the early days of building the company was involved in every aspect of the business. As the company has grown, he has developed an excellent management team that is able to drive the business forward.
Wherever possible Larkfleet employs local people, places contracts with local suppliers and supports local schools and charities. It also supports local business awards to celebrate the achievements of local companies. From donations to local charities and equipment supply for local schools, to the investment in the local economy with the training and employment it gives to local students and suppliers, Larkfleet is committed to giving back to the area in which it is based.
Larkfleet is also heavily involved in supporting the NSPCC, raising money which is spent within local communities supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable youngsters. At a recent event, Larkfleet helped raise over £20,000 for the charity.
Local and national impacts
The company has also expanded its training for young people into a new area by creating a Graduate Training Programme giving invaluable experience and guidance within the Construction business. The four year programme will see the graduates spend several months in each of the key departments. Following this, with the guidance of their mentor, they will choose a professional qualification to complete over the next two years before spending the final year in an appropriate role within Larkfleet Group.
With its success, Larkfleet is able to support local economies with employment opportunities, support local eco-systems with its sustainable construction and wildlife protection practices and support the local environment with its low carbon building methods.
Larkfleet Group’s R&D projects currently under way have the potential to revolutionise the construction industry, especially in regards to housing construction in flood risk areas. Its leadership in this field is something that has attracted national and international interest and government financial backing.
In more than 30 years of developing housing Karl has always acquired site options by private negotiations during recessions, avoiding competition with major developers and allowing Larkfleet to bring sites forward for development at affordable prices during subsequent market upturns.
Larkfleet also responds to other trends in the housing market. In particular, some years ago Larkfleet identified a need for age-exclusive ‘retirement communities’ that are not traditional homes for old people but meet the real needs of people in the later years of their life. Larkfleet has built (and won awards for) such developments and has more in the pipeline.
On all large-scale developments Larkfleet is integrating such developments as part of a wider community – alongside more specialist care facilities for people with real health and welfare needs which it also strongly believes should be provided within a community setting and not ‘shut away’ somewhere. Larkfleet’s developments encompassed everyone from first-time buyers and young families through to the retired and the frail elderly.
At the same time as adapting its strategy in the housebuilding sector to meet changing market conditions. Each new business development, however, has been built on a solid foundation of bringing benefit to the group as a whole as well as being a worthwhile venture in its own right.