Meet the Team – Lauren Cleghorn, Director of Property, Cowdray Estate
“I feel incredibly fortunate to be working for Cowdray as I love the family feel and the pride people take in working for the Estate.”
Can you describe your role at Cowdray?
As a Chartered Surveyor, I am responsible for the management of let property across the 16,500-acre Cowdray Estate. The portfolio is diverse comprising of residential property lets, occupied by Cowdray staff, pensioners and tenants, along with a significant number of commercial properties. These include high street retail premises, a hotel, pubs and manufacturing businesses as well as a number of farm holdings. In addition, we have a wide range of buildings identified for future development opportunities.
Do you work as part of a team?
There are five of us in the property team who work together to manage the Estate’s land and building assets. We deal with day-to-day tenant and landlord matters as well as more strategic property planning ideas which are key to the Estate’s future development.
Currently, the team are based at Capron House which is in the heart of Midhurst. Next year, Capron House will be refurbished in order to become the new Estate Office. The property team are very much involved in the refurbishment project, which is exciting and reflective of how much the Estate has grown over recent years. Moving to a larger office space will also future proof us for further expansion.
How varied are Cowdray’s residential properties?
We have a wide range of residential properties from idyllic rural farm cottages tucked away in the West Sussex countryside to multi-let blocks of flats in Midhurst town centre – and everything in between. There are also several traditional farmhouses which have housed the same families for generations.
What first attracted you to work at Cowdray?
Prior to working at Cowdray, I was in commercial asset management based in London. After my second son was born, I was reluctant to continue with the commute, so I made a speculative call to Cowdray to see if there were any opportunities. I started in 2018 covering maternity leave and I was delighted when my contract was subsequently extended.
I am born and bred in West Sussex and went to school in Midhurst, so have a strong affiliation with the Estate and the local area. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working for Cowdray as I love the family feel and the pride people take in working for the Estate.
Do many people ask about the significance of the yellow windows?
Yes, we are often asked about the yellow windows as Cowdray is famous for its distinctive colour, which was chosen due to the 1st Viscount’s Cowdray’s connection to the liberal party. However, people are amazed at how many residential properties do not have yellow windows – many are green, and some are white.
Has the number of enquiries for country properties risen since lockdown?
Undoubtably. During lockdown, the phones did not stop ringing. The most popular request was for a two-bedroom cottage, with a small garden which has room for a home office in a rural location or in a village.
What is the best bit about your role, and what is the most challenging?
I have really enjoyed overseeing several extensive refurbishment projects as we are working on growing the holiday let portfolio. This is a key focus for 2021. It is a great opportunity to be creative, but also juggling these projects is one of the more challenging aspects of my role. My job also gives me the opportunity to get out into the beautiful countryside visiting diverse locations on the Estate from farms to townhouses.
Another aspect of my role that I enjoy is when people contact us with business ideas asking advice about whether we have an appropriate commercial property to let. I enjoy seeing if we can assist them by exploring their business proposal and working out if they are aligned with the Estate’s vision, which focuses on community, conservation and innovation.
Another challenging aspect of my role is dealing with legislative property compliance. You must tick all the boxes before a property is let again and this can take time and may mean that the property stands empty for a while, which is frustrating.
Do you work with other departments across the Estate?
Collaboration across the Estate is vital, and I am in regular contact with the other Heads of Department and their teams. Both the Works Department and Parks & Gardens do a wonderful job maintaining the Estate’s let and operational property and land.
Do you have a favourite house on the Estate?
Woods Garden, which is a stylish, rural holiday retreat, is my favourite house on the Estate. I oversaw the recent refurbishment of it from start to finish and so am particularly fond of the house and it is set in such a stunning location.
And do you have a favourite item from the Farm Shop?
As a busy working mum of two young boys aged six and five, I love going to the Farm Shop for the Cowdray Kitchen homemade frozen ready meals. These are healthy and the whole family enjoys them – favourites are Cowdray Bolognaise and Macaroni Cheese.
My boys are also obsessed with Susana and Daughters Kefir which is produced on the Estate and sold in the Farm Shop.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
With two energetic boys and a much-loved black Labrador called Tiggy, my husband and I are outdoors a lot in our spare time. During lockdown we particularly enjoyed exploring around Ambersham Common, which is a secret corner of the Estate.
We also love sailing and the boys are learning to sail at Itchenor on the West Sussex coast. We want to buy a boat and go out as a family.
How would you spend the perfect Saturday?
I love having an active day outdoors blowing away the cobwebs, then light a fire and cook a nice meal to enjoy as a family.
What can’t you live without?
My family, my dog Tiggy and coffee (not necessarily in that order!)
Not including people, what is your most prized possession?
Tiggy – who comes into work with me every day and is always by my side. She is well known on the Estate both with colleagues and with the various people I have meetings with
Where do you like to go on holiday?
Just before lockdown, my husband and I went to a wedding in Sri Lanka. I loved it, and although I rarely want to go to the same place twice, I would love to go back.
What is number one on your bucket list?
My husband and I have set ourselves a challenge to hike to the base camp of Everest. We might not be able to do that next year because of travel restrictions but it is on my ‘to do’ list. Over the next 10 years we want to complete lots of famous walks around the world and as the boys get older, they can join us.
And finally, what are you most looking forward to next year?
Home cooking. I like roast beef with all the trimmings.
I am really looking forward to things getting back to normal and being able to socialise properly with friends and colleagues. I also want to get on a plane and go on holiday somewhere with my family.
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