STEERING THE SHIP THE BIG RETURN LESSONS IN LAND
Cllr Amanda Hopgood opens up about her new role
Welcome back soirées and saying hello to new friendly faces
Experts answer your need-to-know questions on buying land for development
Cllr Amanda Hopgood opens up about her new role
Welcome back soirées and saying hello to new friendly faces
Experts answer your need-to-know questions on buying land for development
Managing Partner and Head of the Dispute Resolution and Employment teams, Jonathan Moreland, welcomes us to the latest instalment of Prism with the latest news and insights.
Associate solicitor, Mike Ward, explains what is meant by a “gentleman’s agreement” and whether they can ever be legally enforceable.
Two North East entrepreneurs discuss taking their first steps into
We offer a warm welcome to the 13 new arrivals at Swinburne Maddison and introduce our new solicitors.
The return of office working called for a celebration in the form of a “seaside soirée”, where we caught up with colleagues and said hello to new faces.
Associate Solicitor Jennifer Purvis explains how the Kate Garraway documentary played a crucial role in bringing the importance of Lasting Powers of Attorney to light.Moreland Managing Partner and Head of the Dispute Resolution and Employment teams
A very warm welcome to the latest instalment of Prism, Swinburne Maddison’s very own publication bringing you the latest news and insights from our team, clients and the local community.
The last 6 months have been some of our busiest yet, with instructions across many departments reaching an all-time high and 13 new faces joining the firm to help us meet this upsurge in demand. This period has also seen some significant changes in the structure of our management team – indeed, this is my first time writing this column as the Managing Partner of Swinburne Maddison (more on that on pages 8 – 9) – so clearly, we have a lot of ground to cover!
This month we were delighted to see our whole team back under one roof again as we welcomed everyone back to the office and celebrate a return to some kind of normality. It has been wonderful to see everyone reconnecting again (and, in some cases, meeting each other for the first time) after 18 months of staggered office attendances and Zoom meetings.
We were also very excited to see County Durham launching its bid to be named UK City of Culture 2025 and we took the opportunity to catch up with Councillor Amanda Hopgood to find out more
about what this title could mean for the County, as well as her broader hopes and aspirations as the first ever female leader of Durham County Council (pages 22 – 23).
Clearly, one subject which is still forefront on everyone’s minds is Covid, in particular, our post-Covid recovery. The Open North Foundation has been working hard throughout the pandemic, raising funds and providing grants to businesses across the North East. We provide an update on this, along with a rundown of some of our other CSR activities, on pages 14 – 15.
We also have an interview with local entrepreneur, Richard Bennett (pages 16 – 17), a comprehensive guide to buying land for development, prepared in partnership with Graeme Blenkinsopp of Wisemove (pages 18 – 19) and the usual raft of topical legal updates and news stories from across our team. As I said, a lot of ground to cover. So let’s get started.
A hot topic within the world of football this summer was the speculation that Harry Kane may be sold by Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester City. Rumour has it that, despite being under contract with Spurs until Summer 2024, England captain, Harry Kane, spent much of last month locked in a wrangle with club chairman, Daniel Levy, following reported assertions by Kane that he and Levy made a “gentleman’s agreement” amending his written contract which would allow him to leave this summer.
According to reports, Kane had initially requested a transfer last summer but agreed to stay with the club for another season after Levy had apparently shaken hands on a transfer in Summer 2021 if Kane still felt the same way. After another season with no silverware for Tottenham, Kane seemed more determined than ever to move to a club which would allow him to stay in the Premier League (and potentially claim Alan Shearer’s title as the competition’s all-time top scorer) and sought to rely upon this handshake with Levy as his way out. Levy, however, maintained that the written contract – which apparently does not include a release clause – was un-amended and is the only agreement which could be relied upon, and refused to consider a sale of his star player unless he received an offer of around £150million. He didn’t, and Kane is now set to remain at Tottenham for the foreseeable.
So, was Kane naïve to think that he would be able to rely on his “gentleman’s agreement” with Levy or are there situations where such an agreement could be legally binding?
From a legal standpoint, a “gentleman’s agreement” is essentially a verbal agreement between two parties, based heavily on trust and goodwill, which may or may not be coupled with a handshake and some notes scribbled on the back of an envelope.
In the event of a dispute over whether or not an enforceable contract has been created following a verbal agreement, a Court will pay close attention to how the parties conducted themselves after the alleged agreement had been reached. For example:-
• Were emails exchanged at a later date referring to the agreement reached?
• Did any sum of money (or other consideration) change hands?
• Did either party perform any act upon reliance of the conversation?
It is worth nothing that a Court will be much more likely to uphold a verbal agreement between parties in a commercial context where there is a greater likelihood of there being an intention to create legal relations. If a party does not wish to be bound by any terms discussed during negotiations, then it should make it clear that the negotiations are “subject to contract”.
The best way of proving the existence of an enforceable contract would of course be through the preparation of clearly written terms.Mike Ward Associate Solicitor, Corporate and Commercial team
In theory, yes.
Subject to certain statutory exceptions (including the assignment of ownership in copyright, settlement agreements between employers and employees or agreements for the sale and purchase of land) a contract does not have to be in writing to be legally binding. A legal contract (whether verbal or written) will be formed whenever the following elements are present:-
i. an offer has been made by one party, which is accepted by the other;
ii. there is intention to create legal relations between the parties; and
iii. there is “consideration” (i.e. the parties each exchange something of value, such as the payment of money in exchange for services).
So, provided that all of these elements have been satisfied, a legal contract has been formed and this will be enforceable in law. Of course, in the case of verbal agreements, the difficulty is proving it. If the “gentleman’s agreement” was nothing more than a conversation and a handshake, and there were no independent witnesses, there is nothing to stop one party from having a complete change of heart and denying that the conversation ever took place.
The best way of proving the existence of an enforceable contract would of course be through the preparation of clearly written terms. If a verbal agreement is reached which you intend to rely upon, especially one which carries significant risk to you or your business, don’t rely on a handshake alone. Take appropriate legal advice and ensure that the key terms of the agreement are recorded in writing and signed by both parties at the soonest opportunity. This is particularly important to remember in cases such as Harry Kane’s where there is an existing written contract sitting behind the alleged “gentleman’s agreement”. Written contracts will often include a raft of standard contractual provisions such as an “entire agreement” and “variation and waiver” clause, designed to ensure that any variations to the contract must be made in writing and possibly even signed. Put simply, don’t ever take someone at their word if there is a written contract in place which says something different.
For further information and advice on how you can protect your business interests, please contact Associate Solicitor in Swinburne Maddison’s Corporate team, Mike Ward, by phone on 0191 384 2441 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Associate solicitor, Mike Ward, explains what is meant by a “gentleman’s agreement” and considers whether it is naive to expect to be able to rely on a person’s word or if there are any situations where such an agreement could in fact be legally binding.
How can you prove that an enforceable contract has beenLewis Brown Solicitor, Dispute Resolution team
Two well-known North East entrepreneurs have taken their first steps into the healthcare sector with the acquisition of a successful Teesside equipment supplier.
Richard Bennett says: “Since acquiring NPS three years ago, we’ve focused on providing an extensive range of commercial print to customers both within and outside the North East, but as the pandemic hit, they began to ask us for help in sourcing much needed PPE as supplies were scarce and difficult to access.
“With our scientific background and contacts, it was an area in which we had quite a bit of knowledge, and we were able to obtain the items that our customers needed.
“As soon as we became aware that Caremore Services was up for sale, we jumped at the chance to acquire it as it was a perfect strategic fit for our business and allowed us to formalise our entry into the healthcare sector.
“The business has developed a strong reputation for the supply of goods and services to the healthcare sector over many years that is based on trust and dependable delivery, and we’re confident that we can build on this to make it even more successful.
“The excellent support we’ve had from the RMT and Swinburne Maddison teams has helped the transaction to progress smoothly and we’re looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunities that we know are ahead of us.”
I studied law at the University of Sheffield, where I also completed the Legal Practice Course. I loved my time at Sheffield – it is a fantastic city for students and I was able to get a flavour of what it would be like to be a lawyer by working on real cases as part of the University’s Freelaw legal advice clinic.
My interest in law goes back a bit further than that though. I first started studying law relatively early when I was at sixth form, and have always enjoyed learning about the theoretical side of the subject as well as the practical aspects, gaining an understanding of how the law has adapted over the years to meet changing social needs and attitudes. Points of law often divide opinion and spark debates, and I suppose, ultimately, wanted to become a lawyer so that could be a part of this evolving area and have the opportunity to weigh up the nuances of different arguments and opinions, rather than just dealing with questions that have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
Richard and Julie Bennett, owners of specialist regional print and design firm Newcastle Print Solutions (NPS), have purchased Caremore Services of Redcar from directors Peter Moore and David Caley for an undisclosed sum.
The acquisition has followed on from the Bennetts, who were the founders of Derwentside Environmental Testing, being asked by NPS clients during the pandemic to use their knowledge of and contacts in the scientific sector to source items of personal protective equipment (PPE) that were proving difficult to find.
Established for more than 15 years, Caremore Services provides medical and janitorial products to regional clients in the healthcare and care home sector, as well as a range of other items, including electric profiling beds, shower chairs, medical hoists, lifting slings, pressure reducing and relieving products and furniture.
Michael Cantwell, head of corporate finance at Gosforth-based RMT Accountants and Business Advisors, lead on the acquisition on behalf of the Bennetts, with Alex Wilby, partner at Swinburne Maddison LLP in Durham, providing them with legal advice. Craig Malarkey, partner at Tilly Bailey & Irvine LLP, provided legal advice to the vendors.
Michael Cantwell, head of corporate finance at RMT Accountants, adds: "Richard and Julie know what it takes to build successful businesses, and this latest acquisition will allow them to ally their commercial and scientific knowledge and expertise to great effect.”
Alex Wilby, partner at Swinburne Maddison LLP, says: “Having worked with Richard and Julie for a number of years and on a number of projects, it’s fantastic to have been able to successfully work through a number of tricky issues and to assist in concluding their latest acquisition. Equally, it was a pleasure to work alongside Michael whose advice was as expert and pragmatic as ever.”
Read our full interview with Richard Bennett on pages 16 - 17.
I was exposed to a great deal of litigious work during my Training Contract, so I think I naturally fell into this area because I had acquired so much experience of it at an early stage in my career. I may be biased, but to me Litigation work is the most exciting. I enjoy formulating arguments, weighing up the strengths and weaknesses of a case, and putting my client’s best foot forward to obtain the best result possible. I also really appreciate the variety of work get to deal with as a Litigation lawyer, whether that be assisting an individual with a neighbour dispute or representing a business in a multi-million pound contractual dispute. No two cases are the same.
Since joining the firm in March 2020, I have worked on a number of high value and complex cases which are certainly some of the highlights of my career so far. However, I think my biggest achievement has been managing to build my own caseload during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. I started working at the firm just one week before the first lockdown – I had barely got started in my new role before being sent away with my PC in a box to work from home! It was a challenging time, but with some determination, and the encouragement of a very supportive team, have been able to establish great relationships with a number of the firm’s key clients and develop my experience across a wide range of matters. As life slowly becomes more “normal”, look forward to meeting some of my clients in person and continuing to build my network of professional contacts.
What has been your greatest achievement at Swinburne Maddison?
Why did you want to specialise in Litigation work?
Where did you study law and why did you want to become a lawyer?Left to right: Michael Cantwell and Alex Wilby with Richard and Julie Bennett
It’s fantastic to have been able to successfully work through a number of tricky issues and to assist in concluding their latest acquisition.
In case you missed it
Earlier this year we were very excited to announce that, hot on the heels of an exceptional 2020-21 financial performance, Swinburne Maddison will be embarking on an ambitious expansion plan over the next 3 years, with a newly-formed Management Team at the helm.
A committee of three Partners now presides over Finance, Operations and Business Development, with Jonathan Moreland taking overall responsibility for the day-to-day management of the firm as Managing Partner.
The newly-formed Management Team will report to the wider partnership on any strategic decisions but day-to-day matters will be dealt with independently. Or, as Jonathan likes to say, the team of four will be responsible for sailing the ship day-to-day while the wider group of nine partners decides on its destination. So, let’s find out a bit more about the four Partners behind the wheel!
Management Team role: Managing Partner
What has been your proudest achievement at Swinburne Maddison to date?
At the risk of showing my age, I have been present for all of the milestone events in Swinburne Maddison’s history so far: from the merger in 1998, when we became Swinburne Maddison, to the big move out of Durham City Centre up to our current premises at Venture House, and the rebrand, expansion and refurbishment which followed. All of these moments made me incredibly proud to be part of such a progressive and ambitious firm, but my proudest personal achievement has to be the one which took place only this year; my appointment as Managing Partner. It really is an immense privilege to accept this responsibility and I couldn’t be prouder of the team which makes Swinburne Maddison the firm it is today.
You celebrate your 30th year with Swinburne Maddison this year and have seen the firm weather a number of different storms in that time, though none quite on the scale of a global pandemic. What has been the biggest challenge of the past 18 months?
I’d have to say the uncertainty. Obviously, there were significant technical and logistical issues to overcome, but the real challenge was the “not knowing.” I would have loved to have been able to provide more certainty and reassurance to our team, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, but we were dealing with so many unknowns at that stage, not least how long the various restrictions would be in place or what the long-term economic impact would be for the legal sector. That wasn’t easy for anyone, but I am so proud of the resilience which our whole team demonstrated during that time and it is testament to their strength of character that we have come through it stronger than ever.
Management Team role: Head of Business Development
What has been your proudest achievement at Swinburne Maddison to date?
am extremely proud of the work that myself and my fellow Partners, Kate Stephenson and Simon Robinson, have put into growing the firm’s Commercial Property team. Through careful planning, targeted recruitment and ongoing staff training, we now have a team of lawyers with expertise that spans a broad range of specialisms and are able to offer our clients a fully-tailored service whatever the nature of their instructions. I was also very proud to be one of the Partners responsible for overseeing the firm’s rebrand in 2012 and subsequent brand refresh in 2018. As a law firm of regionwide standing and stature, it is important that our brand reflects that, and have always enjoyed taking an active role in this side of the business.
In a year which has really brought home the importance of having a strong support network behind you, can you sum up what makes the Swinburne Maddison team so special?
Honestly, I can’t stress enough how hard everyone has worked throughout this entire period. Their resilience and fortitude has been remarkable but what has impressed me more than anything was how personally motivated everyone was to “step up to the plate” and do their bit to make sure that client expectations were met and work was delivered on time, even in the face of some extraordinary personal and logistical challenges. It is that shared determination and commitment to delivering outstanding client service which makes the Swinburne Maddison team truly special.
Management Team role: Head of Finance
What has been your proudest achievement at Swinburne Maddison to date?
I am incredibly proud of my role in developing the firm’s commercial offering and building the Corporate and Commercial team into the regional competitor it is today. In just over 10 years we have more than quadrupled in size and, thanks to the incredible work ethic and client focus of every member of our team – as well as the broad range of specialisms and experience we are able to offer – we are now ranked in the Top Tier of The Legal 500 and named by Experian as one of the North East’s top 5 M&A advisors by volume of deals completed in 2021 YTD.
What have you missed the most in the past 18 months which you are looking forward to seeing more of?
Face-to-face collaboration. One of our strengths is our technical ability (the “behind the scenes” work that often goes unnoticed to clients) and the quality improves immeasurably when we work together and share knowledge throughout the team. Whilst we strived to continue to do this during lockdown, it was certainly not as easy as being in the office. On a personal note, I am really looking forward to spending more social time with my colleagues across the entire firm, and clients, in person again.
Management Team role: Head of Operations
What has been your proudest achievement at Swinburne Maddison to date?
I am particularly proud of taking responsibility for achieving and maintaining the Firm’s Lexcel accreditation from the Law Society, which is an award to recognise excellent Practice Management. I was also responsible, along with David Low, for overseeing the total refurbishment of the office in 2018; a project which proved transformational for the business in more ways than we could have envisaged and created the perfect backdrop for the next phase of Swinburne Maddison’s journey.
Have there been any positives from the past 18 months that you would like to see stick around?
Perhaps surprisingly, there have been quite a few positives that have helped to shape our longer-term plans for the next 3 years. We have substantially developed our existing flexible working policy to launch a new Hybrid Working policy, which will allow everyone at all levels of the firm to adopt an element of flexibility into their work. We are also extremely proud of our strong team ethic, which has been at the forefront during the pandemic, and we want to continue to build on that when working with our clients.
Following the introduction (and then the extension) of the SDLT holiday by the government and the subsequent upturn in demand for services across the whole of the property market, our conveyancing team were delighted to welcome additional secretarial support from Grace Ridsdale and Rachael Metcalfe earlier this year. We also celebrated Ashley Garthwaite becoming a qualified Solicitor. Ashley joined Swinburne Maddison in 2016 as a secretary, later progressing to a Paralegal role and has since worked hard to complete her training as a Solicitor.
It has been a busy year for our team and an influx of new work is behind a series of new appointments and a ramping up of the practice’s ongoing recruitment drive.
In 2020 alone, our Commercial Property team advised on ten different development sites and completed more than 120 plot sales. Our Dispute Resolution team recently completed its 200th instruction for Leeds City Council and, in August this year, we were once again named by Experian as one of the North East’s top 5 M&A advisors by volume of deals completed in 2021 YTD.
As a result, Swinburne Maddison ended the financial year on a high, enjoying an increase in year-on-year fee income of 9.8% and a rise in net profits of 24.6% compared to 2019’s financial performance.
To manage this continued increase in demand for our awardwinning services and prepare for further growth, we have welcomed the arrival of 13 new faces.
Elly Swinburne a recently qualified Solicitor, joins us from a major Newcastle law firm to work in the Commercial Property team, together with Liam Musgrave who joins as a Paralegal. Together they will be working on a wide range of matters, including work for Esh Group and the many instructions from Atom Bank. The team will also benefit from the support of two new secretaries, Brooke Jefferson and Karen Parlett
Shubana Ali joined us earlier this year as an Administrative Assistant providing support across the firm’s wider operations and Matt Dobson stepped into a newly-created role as our inhouse ICT Analyst. Both roles are the first in what is expected to be a series of new roles in administration that we will be looking to create over the coming years as part of the management team’s strategy to streamline internal procedures and improve the client experience. Glenda Henderson has joined us as an Accounts Assistant and will support both clients and our members of our team.
In an internal appointment, Ashley Patterson, formerly a PA in the Corporate and Commercial team, has been appointed a Trainee Solicitor, while Beth Langley and Lauren Willcox join the same team as PA and Secretary respectively.
We were delighted to welcome James Curran, a newly qualified solicitor, who has joined the Dispute Resolution team from a Carlisle law firm and will be working on a high volume of work from Leeds City Council. Also assisting the team in servicing this stream of work is newest recruit, Alex Siddle, who joined the team as a Paralegal at the end of October.
After nearly 18 months of remote working and staggered returns to the office, we couldn’t wait to bring everyone back together again and meet our newest recruits face to face. What better way to do it than with an afternoon “at the seaside.”
The rankings for the 2022 edition of The Legal 500 UK have been announced and we are delighted to report that, not only has Swinburne Maddison maintained its rankings from last year’s edition – including three Top Tier positions for our Commercial Property, Corporate and Commercial and Family teams – we have also received a brand-new ranking in the category of Social Housing.
We are now “Legal 500 recommended” in the following 8 practice areas: Commercial Litigation, Commercial Property, Corporate & Commercial, Employment, Family, Private Client, Property Litigation and Social Housing.
The Legal 500 rankings are compiled following an extensive independent research process which considers detailed examples of work as well as feedback received from thousands of client and peer interviews to identify who they believe to be the best law firms in the region.
We would like to once again thank all of our clients, peers and professional contacts who participated in the process and provided some wonderful feedback in the latest edition:
‘The team is incredibly knowledgeable and give a great service. But this isn’t the reason that I believe they are such a unique practice. It’s the mix of the team’s experience, everyone is highly capable, but most importantly it’s the manner in which they deliver their work. Everyone from trainee to partner is easily reachable, good natured and really nice to work with.
‘Quality, trustworthy, responsive law firm – the team provides quality advice that we trust and are very quick to respond to whatever queries we come up with. The advice is accurate and precise – and protective of us as a client. There is no nonsense – straight to the matter. Committed to hard work for their clients. Excellent service.’
‘The firm has undergone a significant expansion providing improved facilities and resources. In particular the conference and meeting room facilities are impressive and the in-house resources have been constantly expanded and improved with new faces and experience being added on a regular basis. Despite the expansion, Swinburne Maddison continues to offer a friendly and personal service. This firm manages to provide a very professional and efficient service to match the larger City firms while maintaining their friendly and personal service.’
We were also extremely proud to once again see a number of our Associates and Partners singled out for individual recognition.
Partners, Martyn Tennant and Victoria Walton, and Head of the Family team, Kath Hill, were acknowledged as Leading Individuals, recognising their experience and leading roles within their respective teams, as well as their wider recognition by market peers.
Partner, David Low, was singled out as a Next Generation Lawyer in the categories of Commercial Litigation and Property Litigation, indicating the significance of his contribution to these teams and the outstanding client endorsements he received, and Managing Associates, Abigail Zuk and Gillian Moir, along with Associates, Mike Ward and Natalia Lalas, were named Rising Stars in their respective fields.
Oh we do like to be
The past 18 months have been incredibly tough for the charity sector so our team have been re-doubling their efforts to help those individuals and businesses which have been hardest hit by the pandemic.These are just some of the initiatives we have supported...
Suubi Africa UK is a local charity which was originally formed in 2008 with a dream to build a home for 6 abandoned children in Uganda. Fast forward to today and, not only has the charity succeeded in building that home, they have also created an entire community to go with it. This community, known as Suubi Africa Village, now offers its residents a home for adopted children, a medical centre, primary school, community building, playground and farm, as well as a range of outreach programs and educational opportunities for the adults in the community.
Our team returned to the streets of Durham, armed with cartons of water, providing water station support on another scorcher of a day at the Durham City Run. The annual event (which was a big miss in 2020) gives runners the choice of a 5k or 10k route, taking in the beautiful views the city has to offer. We were very proud to sponsor the first water station on the track, providing much-needed hydration to thousands of very hot runners, including members of our own team who were running for a range of charitable causes. Hats off to everyone who took part – we think you’re all amazing!
In early 2020, Managing Partner, Jonathan Moreland was appointed to the Open North Foundation (ONF) as a Trustee. When the pandemic swept the nation, the ONF made it their mission to help facilitate the region’s economic recovery by supporting businesses which have been adversely affected. To date, the organisation has supported more than 16 businesses with over £20K of grants.
We are very proud supporters of Changing Lives, a not-for-profit organisation which helps over 12,500 people each year who are experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, addition, longterm unemployment and more. Earlier this year we hosted a spring clear-out campaign with all items being distributed across numerous Changing Lives projects.
We also recently donated several PCs and other IT equipment to support their employability programme in association with Karbon Homes.
The difference that this charity has made is phenomenal and it wouldn’t be possible without the ongoing efforts of the Trustees and fundraising committee back home in the UK. Our very own Kath Hill has been a proud Trustee of the charity for the past two years and Partner, David Low, will be joining the ranks as a committee member from next year. The committee is responsible for organising a range of events each year – including the everpopular Chinese Banquet Night at the Pavilion restaurant – and one of the biggest nights of the year is the annual “Back to Africa” black tie ball.
Held this year at Ramside Hall Hotel, the Ball was attended by around 200 people and for many it was their first big social outing for more than 18 months, so it was always going to be special night. Guests were treated to a delicious 3 course meal, an auction and raffle and spectacular entertainment with a live band keeping everyone dancing until 1am. The event raised a staggering £24,000 for Suubi Africa UK and was a hugely memorable night for all who attended.
In August 2021, Corporate Partner, Alex Wilby, was appointed to the Feeding Families Board of Trustees to assist them in their efforts to provide food parcels to vulnerable individuals across the region.
We are calling upon our team, clients and contacts to support us with our upcoming Christmas fundraiser by collecting and donating food items for Feeding Families and by donating whatever you can to our Christmas advent campaign in support of Changing Lives.
We are the very proud sponsors of St Cuthbert’s Hospice’s charity Christmas cards and have a beautiful range of cards and wall calendars available to buy in our office for anyone who would like to make a start on their Christmas shopping whilst supporting a wonderful local charity.
We will also soon be kicking off our annual Selection Box collection on behalf of Durham Foodbank, giving our team the chance to help make Christmas a little bit brighter for families who may be struggling this year.
The Feeding Families emergency food parcels are slightly different to our normal food collections. The charity has provided us with a list of items which they require:
• Part baked bread and biscuits
• UHT milk, tea and coffee
• Cereal, rice and pasta
• Cooking sauce, soup and baked beans
• Tinned vegetables, fruit and meat
We will be opening our Christmas Food and Gift Appeal drop off point on Monday 1st November 2021 and any donations would be very gratefully received. For further information, please visit our website or contact Sara Stammers on 0191 384 2441.
For our Changing Lives Collection, we are looking for new and unused items including;-
• Toiletries and gift sets
• Winter woollies and PJ’s
• Toys, books and crafts
to Africa” in support of Suubi Africa UK
Richard Bennett has worked with Swinburne Maddison for over twenty years. Although his initial contact was in relation to an employment law issue, he has gone on to use a wide range of legal services from us and describes us as his ‘go-to law firm’ for which we thank him. While others of his age (which we choose not to reveal) may be thinking of retirement, to use a well-known phrase, ‘you can’t keep a good man down!’
When you start your career as a chemist and move into environmental testing, it seems like a reasonably complementary shift.
But when it’s a move from environmental testing to running a printing company and supplying PPE to the healthcare sector, these are more complicated decisions to get your head around.
However, entrepreneur, Richard Bennett, is quite philosophical about how he ended up doing what he’s doing now because it was quite simple. He felt too young to retire after selling his business, Derwentside Environmental Testing Services (DETS), in 2016 and had an appetite for a few more challenges.
After talking it over with his wife Julie, who has worked in the business with him for quite a few years, they decided to ask their accountant whether he knew of any businesses for sale where they could add value – a business they could grow and develop.
When it was suggested that they might consider a printing company – a sector which was totally alien to them – others may have turned down the opportunity out of hand. But not Richard and Julie.
As a keen amateur photographer Richard was drawn to the idea of having an outlet for his creativity and when he met the business owner, he was persuaded that the combination of printing and
creativity could be a heady mixture and an interesting proposition. Richard takes up the story:
“NPS, just off the Scotswood Road in Newcastle - the specialist print and design solutions company we proceeded to buy - has a strong client base, particularly in the care home sector.
“During the pandemic, we were hit hard. Much of our business disappeared overnight. Businesses closed. People were working from home. Then one day, a care home we supply with leaflets and flyers asked if we were able to source PPE for them. And when we successfully did that, they asked if we could source some more.
“We rummaged through our contacts from DETS days, which opened up a raft of new wholesalers and we started providing
hand sanitiser and PPE. This whet my appetite for looking at the potential of the sector to provide opportunities for further growth. It was also a great feeling with all the doom and gloom around us to think that we were doing something positive to help during the pandemic.”
Richard put feelers out again with his business network to see if there were any companies available where the current owners were looking to retire. Caremore Services of Redcar, a healthcare equipment supplier, was perfect. It had been established for 15 years providing medical and janitorial products to regional clients in the healthcare and care home sector, and the two brothers who ran it, were looking to retire.
“We jumped at the chance to acquire the business as it was an excellent strategic fit. With our scientific background and contacts, it was an area in which we had quite a bit of knowledge and it allowed us to formalise our entry into the healthcare sector. The deal went through on 1 June.”
The deal was eleven months in the making due to hold-ups with Covid but it did not stop Richard buying another business, Atkinson Print in Hartlepool, during the same period.
The three businesses now employ 26 people: eight in Caremore, two at the Hartlepool site and 16 at NPS - yet it does not look as if the Bennett business empire will cease expanding any time soon.
Richard continues: “With the superb level of support Caremore has continued to provide for its clients in residential care homes over the years, supplying them with anything and everything around the care home sector, the logical next steps for us are the hospitality and leisure sectors, then we might look at GPs and dentists, introducing more products, servicing and repairs.
“We will start putting growth plans into place during the next couple of months.”
And what of the immediate future?
“We have a new press, which I am very proud of - a Xerox Iridesse - which is the first in the North East and it prints metallics – gold and silver – which we hope will give us a market lead and help to keep prices competitive. We also have a new, large format printer with a UV flat bed facility for printing promotional materials, pens, notebooks and the like, allowing us to print a very wide range of materials, so we are very busy selling our printing capabilities too!”
So, is there any chance he might ease up soon?
“My eldest son and daughter in law are involved in the business. In time, my younger son may follow. We’re building their future. My plan is to eventually ease back as they take on more responsibility and I will act as a sounding board, but I’ve got a good few years in me yet ….”
It’s just another day in the office for Richard
We believe you.
We were hit hard. Much of our business disappeared overnight. Businesses closed. People were working from home.
You may be an experienced developer or someone who is looking to buy a piece of land for the first time, but the goal will always be the same: to ensure a good return on your investment.
There are several factors to consider before settling on a parcel of land. Whilst it is often tempting to rush ahead and get your plans in motion, by taking the time to explore any potential issues at the very outset, you will dramatically reduce your exposure to risks further down the line and help maximise the profitability of the site.
To help explain in a bit more detail, Partner and Head of our Commercial Property team, Victoria Walton has joined forced with Graeme Blenkinsopp, Managing Director of Wisemove Land, to identify some of the key questions which all buyers should ask themselves when deciding if a parcel of land is right for them.Victoria Walton Partner and Head of the Commercial Property team
“Location, location, location,” applies to land as much as it does to properties. In development terms, it means keeping in mind the future marketability of your plots. Land in picturesque surroundings will not necessarily translate to best value plot sales; there are other factors to consider. Is the land in an area which is close to local amenities and benefits from good transport links? Is the land located within a growth area which has been earmarked for improved infrastructure soon and could result in considerable uplift to the development value of the site after you buy?
Whatever the size of the proposed development, you need to be confident that you will be able to sell the finished units at the best possible price. These are just some of the factors you must consider.
It sounds obvious, but please make sure that you know the full extent of the land that you are buying. Just because there’s a fence or other established boundary in place does not necessarily mean that the seller owns all the land within that boundary and such features cannot be taken at face value. A survey of the land should be carried out sooner rather than later in order to identify any discrepancies between the title plans and the physical boundaries on the site and avoids any potential disputes at day 1.
When considering the boundaries of the site, careful attention should also be given to the current access arrangements and whether these will be sufficient for your future plans. Ideally, you should be looking for a site with direct access to the public highway and be wary of any site which is separated from the public highway by third party land (known as a “ransom strip”). Such parcels of land are often retained by the previous owner of the site as a means of restricting future development unless a “ransom” is paid, impacting on the profit margin.
As well as flushing out any potential issues with the boundaries, a land survey will also help to identify any other potential barriers to development, from overhead power cables, trees which may be subject to a Tree Preservation Order, or the tell-tale signs of a trodden footpath (potential public right of way) running through the site.
Whilst many of these matters are unlikely to be deal breakers, they may cost more to put right than you’re willing to spend and it is better to be aware of these issues at the outset, to avoid any costly surprises down the line.
It will usually be obvious from the price tag whether a parcel of land is being sold with the benefit of planning permission. If it is, you will need to explore the detail of the permission (including the expiry date!) to ensure that it is suitable for your purposes. It is often the case that land will have the benefit of “outline” planning permission only, meaning that the final details of the scheme will need to be approved by the local planning authority at a later date.Graeme Blenkinsopp Managing Director of Wisemove Land and Property Consultants Limited
If you intend to rely upon an existing right of way, you should pay close attention to the specific wording of the right as it may be that it’s only exercisable while the land is used for a particular purpose. Your solicitor will be able to discuss this with you, advising on whether the scope of the wording is strong enough legally to allow access to all eventual owners of the plots, or whether additional documentation will be required to permit this. In the case of any shared accessways, you should seek legal advice so you fully understand any maintenance obligations attached to the exercise of such rights so that these can be passed on to any future plot owners in the transfer documentation.
If you choose to buy a piece of land that does not already have planning permission in place, you should take specialist advice to make sure that you are aware of the time and cost which will be involved in pursuing planning, as well as the possibility that this could be refused. It’s not uncommon for buyers to enter into a contract for the purchase of land without having planning permission in place, but your solicitor will strongly advise that specific provisions are incorporated to ensure that completion of the purchase is conditional upon the grant of a satisfactory planning permission.
As soon as possible! Often, the full title investigation will be carried out after you have agreed your Heads of Terms with the seller and solicitors have been instructed. However, there are benefits to asking your solicitor to look over the title documents even earlier than that so that any red flags can be raised at the soonest opportunity. Title issues to look out for include restrictive covenants preventing future development, third party rights and easements and historic overage provisions (requiring you to share a percentage of any uplift in a value with a previous owner of the site). It may well be possible to deal with these issues by way of indemnity insurance or by building in specific solutions within the contract documentation itself but, in some cases, a title issue will be serious enough to stop the development in its tracks. Far better to find out early and know what you’re dealing with.
An important part of my role as a Private Client solicitor is to help clients plan for their future and to support them in taking whatever steps may be necessary to safeguard their assets in the event of their death or incapacity. This often involves asking clients to imagine some very uncomfortable worst-case scenarios to ensure that, if the unthinkable was to happen, they are satisfied that their loved ones will be provided for in the way they intended.
Clients frequently come to me to discuss their requirements for a Will, keen to ensure that everything is taken care of in the event of their death, but will not have given any thought to what might happen in the event of their future incapacity. Some married couples, or those in a civil partnership, mistakenly believe that they would have an automatic right to manage their spouse or partner’s affairs should anything happen to prevent them from doing this themselves. Whilst this would certainly be true of assets held in joint names, it would not apply to individual bank accounts or credit arrangements etc.
In other cases, the client might be aware of the benefits of a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), but not wish to go to the additional expense of making these arrangements at a time when the risk of incapacity still seems so far away, assuming that incapacity is something that only affects the elderly.
However, for those of us who watched the broadcast of Kate Garraway’s candid documentary, Finding Derek, earlier this year will know, incapacity can strike at any age and with no warning at all. It can arise as a result of dementia, substance misuse, brain injuries following an accident or, in the case of Kate Garraway’s husband, Derek Draper, an ongoing battle with Covid-19.
Derek Draper was just 52 years old the day he was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and placed into an induced coma, for what he and his wife thought would be just 3 or 4 days. Twelve months later Derek found himself in what his wife described as “a state of limbo between life and death”, spending most of his time drifting in and out of consciousness and unable to communicate his wishes or intentions.
It is an agonising situation which nobody ever wants to imagine could happen to them. What made the situation so much more devastating for the couple was that Kate had been unable to focus fully on Derek’s recovery or the emotional needs of herself and her children as, alongside the medical nightmare the couple were enduring, Kate also found herself in serious financial difficulty due to the fact that, for the entire time Derek was in hospital, she had been unable access his bank or credit card accounts, their joint savings, or refinance the mortgage. Had there been LPAs in place – something the couple had discussed previously but never got around to formalising – she would have had the legal authority to deal with all of this.
What makes this case uniquely complex is the state of medical limbo which Derek found himself in. Were it the case that Derek could be classified as having lost capacity, Kate would have had the option of applying for a Deputyship Order from the Court of Protection to obtain the legal authority to manage his affairs. However, because he occasionally had lucid intervals, this was not possible. A Deputyship Application is a ‘last port of call’ and certainly not to be treated as an alternative to an LPA. It is more complex and expensive than an LPA, and requires a great deal of work at a time when families are likely to be experiencing a lot of stress and trauma and already struggling with significant difficulties which an LPA would have resolved e.g. being unable to access a loved one’s bank account to pay for care fees
I often tell my clients to try and think of an LPA like an insurance policy – hopefully something to be put aside without ever needing to be acted upon, but which would be invaluable to our family and friends should the worst ever happen.
Going to ourt for any reason can be incredibly stressful. When you add to that the emotional upheaval of navigating a marital breakdown, it’s no surprise that increasing numbers of separating couples are expressing a preference to “keep things civil.”
At Swinburne Maddison, our Family team are committed to helping couples reach agreement in a constructive and non-adversarial way wherever possible. We understand that a combative approach during the divorce process benefits nobody, particularly when children are involved and the importance of maintaining a good working relationship between the couple is paramount. Thanks to the specialist skills and qualifications within the team, our lawyers are able to work with their clients to explore all of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options that could help keep their divorce out of the courtroom.
The following methods of ADR all provide a quicker and more cost-effective result for separating couples, whilst also seeking to reduce hostility and encourage constructive communication to achieve the right outcome for everyone.
Mediation is a voluntary process which aims to keep the decision-making in the hands of the couple. The mediator is impartial and will assist the couple to discuss difficult issues in a relaxed, informal way, removing much of the heat from the situation.
Any offers made during mediation are “without prejudice” meaning they cannot be relied upon by a judge if the talks breakdown and it becomes necessary to go to court after all.
Collaborative law is slightly more formal than mediation but shares the same aim; to help the parties reach an amicable solution to their disagreements.
With collaborative law, each party will appoint a specialist collaborative lawyer to guide them through the process and the collaborative discussions will take place in a series of 4-way meetings, attended by the couple and theirKath Hill Head of the Family team
respective lawyers. With all four participants present, there is less scope for misunderstandings and considerable progress can be made.
If the collaboration is successful, the lawyers will prepare a formal agreement which can be submitted for court approval, usually without the need for the couple to attend court.
Family arbitration is effectively private judging in that –unlike with mediation or collaboration – the decision will be made for the couple and that decision will be binding. This could be an attractive option for couples who do not feel able to reach an agreement through either of the other methods, but who wish to spare themselves the ordeal of going to court.
Family arbitration enables couples to resolve disputes much more quickly, and therefore more cost-effectively. It also offers full confidentiality and a less formal setting than a courtroom as well as providing the couple a degree of flexibility over how proceedings are run.
For example, choosing the venue, agreeing whether to meet face-to-face or through writing only or deciding which parts of the case to refer to the arbitrator (there may be just one issue in the divorce which they are struggling to agree on, or they may wish to refer the whole case for arbitration).
Such thinking in no small way makes the new, and first ever female leader of Durham County Council 132 years after its formation, the perfect candidate for the role.
Liberal Democrat, Cllr Amanda Hopgood, was elected leader of the council in May after a joint administration of various political
groups came together following the local elections when Labour lost overall control after holding a majority since 1919 (excluding the years 1922-25).
Now steering the ship, this new administration comprises ofConservatives, Liberal Democrats, independents and a Green councillor, and as a County Durham native through and through - Amanda is not only well placed to make her mark, she is determined to ‘make the entire county somewhere people want to be’.
We caught up with her, two months into her new role, in a sunny spot on the balcony outside the leaders’ office and she seemed very much at home in her new surroundings. Things are already starting to change for the better – for example, the leaders’ office is now open plan and operates an open-door policy – which marks a big operational shift, she explained with some satisfaction.
As someone who has been a councillor for 16 years (Amanda has represented the Framwellgate and Newton Hall ward for 13 years) and as a member of a smaller political party, where collaborative and partnership working are the norm, she keenly supports the view that a good idea is a good idea, regardless of the party that thought of it. This open mindedness will surely help her lead the administration through any challenges that lie ahead.
“It’s been a whirlwind, not just learning a new job, but being aware of what’s happening strategically and operationally,” she said. “Our single biggest concern is the Covid recovery and how we come back from it.
“It’s not about things going back to normal. While it has been a
horrendous time, we must recognise that we have created some inspirational business models too and discovered new ways of doing things.
“We can and must learn from the Covid experience. For example, we can make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint by adopting hybrid working methods. No more London meetings at the drop of a hat. The environmental benefits emerging from Covid are huge.”
As a long-time grass roots representative of local people in her role as councillor, she is of course, passionate about ensuring their future is assured, so the ‘Levelling up Agenda’ has come at an opportune time as she explains. Equality of opportunity for all, irrespective of where they live, is a key priority for her.
“We must also become more outcomes focused instead of process driven. We must not take three years to do things because we are so busy talking about them and not actually getting anything done. We need to take everyone on the same journey - not just the business sector - we must not leave anyone behind.
“The City of Culture submission is very exciting. If we win that in 2025, it will really put County Durham on the map. It would have a huge impact on equality of opportunity with the massive investment resulting from tourism and leisure alone.
“As a passionate supporter of our bid, I want to shout from the rooftops about how much County Durham has to offer. It is rich in historic parklands and Durham Cathedral is a UNESCO site, while several others have been designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The East Durham coastline is fantastic, then there’s the beautiful Dales, innovative industry, world class universities and an exciting calendar of all-year-round festivals.
“I defy anyone not to find something they want to see or do in County Durham, but the problem is, people don’t always know what we have here.”
The County Durham Plan has now been approved and will pave the way for almost 25,000 new homes by 2035, with the potential for more than 30,000 jobs. This is the blueprint for the future and must be worked through until 2035.
“We are fortunate in having several strategic sites in the county,” she continues. “Integra 61, home to the newly built Amazon distribution centre, is making a strong contribution to jobs and the economy, while Jade Business Park in Seaham is a solid contender for supporting Nissan’s expansion.
“We are also looking at opportunities to further develop NETPark in Sedgefield, which is home to a raft of world-beating innovative technology companies. We will be discussing our investment plans for developing Phase 3 of the NETPark site with cabinet in September and I am very excited about the huge opportunities we have here and across the wider county to help our businesses grow and develop.
“Very few people realise that there are satellites flying around in space which are using some of the technology developed at NETPark, and Kromek’s revolutionary biological threat detection system is absolutely amazing too, because it can indicate when someone coming through an airport is infected with Covid. Such technology has never been more vital to global public health, national security and the economy – and all this is being developed right here on our doorstep.”
But it’s not just the big sites that are strategically important,
Amanda explains. The smaller sites, scattered around the county, are significant too, because of Carbon Zero.
“We want to create small business parks around the county, so people don’t always have to travel to work. These will revolutionise the way we work by facilitating hybrid working, which will contribute towards Carbon Zero. It goes back to making sure that everyone has the same opportunities within the county. As a new authority, I want us to lead by example in all that we do.
“SMEs are the future. They produce the jobs, drive and initiative. We must not be afraid to work with private industry.
“I am very much looking forward to working with our new CEO, John Hewitt, subject to full council approval, as someone who has also been born and bred in County Durham. It will be exciting once he is permanent to bring forward his ideas, drive and ambition for the county, which should result in greater stability and more forward thinking.
“It is a very exciting time, and am honoured to be part of it.”
Only two months into her new job, it is not surprising to hear that 12-hour days for Amanda have quickly become the norm. However, with her ‘can do’ attitude and determination to abolish ‘heritage thinking’ it looks like there could be many more changes afoot in the next few months, aside from the seating arrangements in the leaders’ office.
What are your three main goals for the County while you are leader?
1. Promote County Durham nationally and beyond as a place where people can come to live
2. Enable a successful Covid recovery
3. The skills agenda – pinpoint exactly what we can do and what we need to do to increase skills
And your three personal goals?
1. To be a ‘Can do Council’ - we must find ways to do things that we haven’t done before. Let’s get rid of the heritage thinking - no more ‘this is how it has always been done’
2. I would like people to view the Council more positively
3. I would like to leave things in a better state than we found them
What drives you mad?
Negativity, bureaucracy and how long it takes to get things done.
Never go visiting in heels...
I always have a couple of pairs of flat shoes in my desk drawer these days after an early and painful lesson learned!