Eddie Cook (BSc Building Surveying, 1986) is a trustee of the Chancerygate Foundation, which is supporting two new bursaries for students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds applying to our Building Surveying and Quantity Surveying BSc courses.
I always wanted to be a surveyor – I guess that’s quite unusual as childhood ambitions go! I had a cousin who was a chartered surveyor and he was probably the most successful person in our family. I really looked up to him. Plus I always had an interest in building things and putting things together. It was a pretty obvious path for me to take.
Looking back, I definitely gained my qualifications the hard way. When I left school in 1977, I initially went into banking. There was a downturn, and opportunities in the property sector were scarce. Then I got the chance to join the insurance company Liverpool Victoria in 1978, as a trainee surveyor. It meant a huge pay cut – from something like £3,500 a year to £2,000! – but I was doing what I wanted to do. I started studying for the RICS exams via a correspondence course but distance learning didn’t really work for me, so I enrolled at the then South Bank Poly for a part-time degree. That meant commuting one day a week from Essex to Stockwell and working the rest of the time. It was tough – but it meant that all the time I was learning, I was getting experience on the ground too.
Joining Chancerygate was an opportunity to put everything I’d learned into practice in an environment with huge potential for growth. I spent my last five years at Liverpool Victoria working on the fund management side – a significant change of direction for a building surveyor. By the time I moved to Chancerygate at the start of 2001 I had a pretty good understanding of building construction and of how to manage property assets as an investment. Establishing the asset management side really enabled the company to start its growth journey, from a small team working in the Park Royal area to what it is today – one of the UK’s biggest multi-unit industrial property developers and asset managers.
By 2016, I was at a crossroads. The 2008 global financial crisis had a huge impact on the business. When I took over as MD in 2010, my priority was to help turn Chancerygate into a less leveraged business and make the company more resilient. We succeeded in doing that and putting in place a new business plan. I realised it needed five or ten more years of my time and I didn’t have that to give. The business also deserved someone new at the helm, with fresh energy and ideas to take it forward. I stayed on for a year to help find my successor, before retiring at the end of 2017.
Now it’s time for me to give something back. It’s something I’ve done throughout my career, through mentoring and finding placements for young people. Personally, I’ve always found that very rewarding and it’s nice now to be able to devote a bit more time and energy to it as a trustee of the Chancerygate Foundation, alongside my consultancy work.
A more diverse profession is a more dynamic profession. It’s fair to say the property sector is pretty much dominated by white middle-class males, and there’s a lot of nepotism too. I believe that greater diversity opens businesses up to new ideas and fresh perspectives. It stops everything being so one-dimensional.
There is much more to the bursaries we’re offering than just financial support. As trustees, we’re already looking at what else we can do to help students, including after they’ve graduated. After such a long time in the industry, I’ve got a pretty good network of contacts. Now I’m leveraging that to try to find opportunities for work experience and internships – things that will make our students’ CVs stand out when they’re applying for jobs. That’s such an important part of what we do, along with going out and talking to pupils and students in schools, colleges and universities about the sector. I want more people to know what a great, rewarding and enjoyable career this can be.
This is just the start of the journey. We’re not going to fix this issue overnight, but you have to start somewhere. My hope is that over time we’ll build a kind of web of support for greater diversity and inclusion. Our students will hopefully be inspired to go on and give something back themselves, and of course, they’ll provide role models for the next generation.
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