MOVING WITH THE TIMES
Head of The Howard de Walden Estate’s Residential Portfolio Tracey Hartley says the presence of diverse, engaged and consistently present residents keeps the area brimming with life all year round
I GREW UP IN west London, so I’ve known Marylebone for many decades. When I was young, my brother used to work in the pubs up here, and I have vivid memories of venues that have since changed beyond all recognition. Those grotty pubs are now lovely places to eat and drink. But while there’s clearly been a fair degree of gentrification, the area hasn’t ever lost its soul.
Marylebone has an authenticity, a village feel, a truly distinct identity, and the nature of The Howard de Walden Estate’s residential portfolio, which I now oversee, has been central to sustaining that sense of place. Unlike some parts of central London, where most of the homes are bought and sold, the vast majority of the hundreds of freehold properties controlled by the Estate across 92 acres of Marylebone are rented out. That has a huge impact. If this were second home territory, with occupants only here for a couple of months of the year, or if a large proportion of properties were being snapped up as investments then left empty, who would be driving demand for the restaurants, for the shops? Who would be filling the galleries and the music venues? The presence of a large, engaged and consistently present residential population is so important for creating the feel of the Estate.
One aspect of the Estate’s character that has struck me since I arrived here last year is how its diverse mix of occupants causes the atmosphere to shift as the day ticks by. There is always someone different dominating the pavement. First thing in the morning, it’s the school run, with parents pushing buggies and kids wheeling along on scooters. The place comes alive during the day thanks to all the shops, businesses and clinics—a stark contrast to the suburbs, where it’s quiet from nine to five. Seven in the evening, when office workers head for a drink or a bite to eat, feels different to 9pm, when the residents are out and about. I’m yet to discover a dead spot or a dead time; I can wander back to my flat at 11 o’clock at night, and while it’s by no means noisy or disruptive, there’s still plenty of life. It never feels particularly secluded or unsafe. It’s not like some parts of the City, where it’s pretty desolate after 9pm or dead at the weekend. This is a place that always brims with life.
For that liveliness and sense of community to continue to flourish, it’s important that people who live here want to stay. We will always welcome our more transient tenants – the students who come for a couple of years, or professionals who are brought here by their work – but we are also blessed with a core community that has been here for ages. Families have grown up in the Estate’s accommodation, there are people who have lived in our properties for decades. Having that mix really helps—whether stopping for six months or staying for years on end, everyone brings something different.
Our customers choose to stick around because they love the location, they enjoy the accommodation and they value the service we offer. They know that if something goes wrong, they can pick up the phone and get through to us at any time of night or day. Providing that service is our primary focus, and because everything is right here on our doorstep, we can be highly responsive. In 10 minutes, I can be at any one of our properties, as can our maintenance teams and handymen. If an issue is reported to us, we’ll do our very best to fix it and fix it quickly.
That isn’t always easy. One of the Estate’s main draws is the incredible period architecture. We have beautiful buildings here, representing every era from the Georgians on. Our properties are blessed with high ceilings, grand staircases, big windows, original features. Nothing is sterile or characterless. The flip side is that within that heritage portfolio, it is incumbent upon us to provide a standard of living that meets with modern aspirations. Things that were luxuries a while ago – high speed internet, air conditioning, smart tech – are increasingly expected, but retro-fitting new technology into period buildings, with their highly complex planning requirements and limited space for ducting, is not always simple.
Thankfully, we have expertise in abundance. The Estate employs its own intrepid band of building surveyors, working full-time. It’s their job to oversee an ongoing programme of planned preventative maintenance, react to issues as they occur, and manage a constant flow of refurbishments, improvements and innovations. They’re very busy all the time. We are absolutely clear that the customer experience in one of our period buildings should be as good as that offered by a state-of-the-art new block half a mile away. Right now, for example, we’re looking at how we might be able to provide parcel storage to our residents. This is a large, diffuse estate, not a brand-new block with a front desk, but why shouldn’t you have that convenience?
Above all, we’re committed to meeting the specific needs of our tenants. Rather than trying to guess what would make our offering more attractive, we’re going out and canvasing their opinions. It’s vital that we listen. The Estate has been here for hundreds of years, but there’s no sense of hubris, no resistance to change. That is what has impressed me most about my colleagues here, and it’s why I’m so excited about the future. We’re determined that Marylebone must never lose its soul, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep striving to make it better.
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