by Andrew Foote
Throughout this story real organisations and real people are mentioned by name. Their place in the tale is in the author's imagination. No thoughts, words or deeds attributed to those people or organisations are real, nor have they ever happened. This is a story! It's fiction. The people and organisations, even when they interact with the characters, are presented in an entirely imagined and fictitious manner, and no discourtesy is intended to them by the author nor by the web site.
The others returned from competition on Friday afternoon flagging this up with text messages. The British gymnastics team had come away with three golds, Benny amongst them, two silvers and two bronze medals with none of the team dipping out.
Lorain and Paul had been equally as successful with their Basketball teams, collecting straight silvers in a four-way competition between the USA, Canada and Iceland and come Saturday morning it was as if they'd never been away.
We trained hard and later, sitting over a coffee, we talked about the future of Christchurch and its implications. Once Lucas and I had finished spelling out what we knew, Lor was the first to speak.
"Oh no. That's terrible! All of us got our breaks here? Have you guys any ideas?"
We walked them through what we'd discussed then waited for it to sink in before Paul commented.
"We……..I mean……..no it could never happen."
Lucas picked up on it.
"What couldn't happen Paul? You've an idea so share it with us."
"No it's stupid but……..what if we were to buy the land? We're all receiving more in sponsorship than we could ever spend so why not do a joint ops in investing some of it?"
"What good would that do?"
"I'm not sure, I told you it was a stupid idea!"
Silence as we all thought about things then I spoke up.
"Actually, is it so stupid? Gloucester Rugby Club have already expressed an interest and with the amount of land they'll need might well cover a quarter of our investment.
What is the Council short of? Cash, that's what. So we buy it saving them a stack of money which they can put towards redeveloping the site which we lease to them to recoup our investment."
Benny had kept quiet throughout the conversation but decided to chip in.
"I don't know much if anything about investments but even to me it's pretty obvious that to make money, there have to be people willing to relocate or buy a plot and there's no way of knowing if that'll happen. What if the rugby club decides there's somewhere else better suited or the council don't build a new sports facility, what do we do then? We're saddled with what, thirty acres of land that no one is interested in plus we're out of pocket by a million quid each."
"Yes okay, I take your point but saddled with the land? Surely it's an investment in itself even if what you say comes to pass. There has to come a point where building on it becomes an attractive proposition. Industry, housing, a retail park or a sports facility, someone is going to make a killing at some point so why not us? Look where it is. Right slap bang on top of the motorway, outside of the city but close enough not to be that remote. The asking price has dropped by three quarters since it first went up for grabs but that's only because of the recession. The country had turned a corner now and you can be sure, if we don't get in quick, the price will skyrocket."
"You're really passionate about this aren't you Andy?"
"I'm passionate about our sports and passionate about helping provide for those kids following along behind us……..okay, I'm also very keen to invest some of my sponsorship where the Revenue can't go clobbering me for forty percent tax.
We'll have to pay land tax but it isn't forty percent!"
Lucas looked up from where he was doodling on a scrap of paper.
"I'm in. I'll cough up a oner if we can raise the rest. I think Andy's right, what harm can it do? All we're doing is swapping cash for something material that won't depreciate and especially if the economic growth maintains itself. We might even do some good here."
"But it's already depreciated. Twelve point five now four."
"Yes I hear you but it can't drop much further and anyway, we're not relying on the land to give us an income, developing it is where the serious money is so let's say it drops another million, it really makes little difference to us because once we find interest, we make that back plus one hell of a lot more. Why not give it some thought and I'll ask Jo to make a few discrete enquiries to try and find out just what the owners are willing to sell it for, what the tax on undeveloped land comes in at and take it from there."
Over the next couple of days, Lucas and I outlined our thoughts to Jo, she also had business with us.
"First? Already you have the best part of two million each in sponsorship in the bank and as you know, there's still more to come. I said in the bank and here's where I must get you to sign all this paperwork. We've opened accounts with Cromberton's in London. It's not the sort of bank you go to for your average clearing or chequing- account, in fact the minimum balance had to be at least one million pounds before they would even look at you so now you need to sign this documentation as proof as being the account holder and also the back of the charge cards. Given that this is personal income to do with as you see fit, there isn't a need for joint signatories but might I suggest that you have someone to countersign cheques say over a value of ten thousand pounds? Fraud prevention and also helps you to keep an eye on things."
Lucas looked at Jo.
"Would you be happy doing that? I see where you're at with this."
"I'm happy to do it for both of you if you like. Don't misunderstand me, it's your money and apart from you drawing out the lot and placing a bet on a rank outsider at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, I'll not stand in your way, it's just a means by which you safeguard your money. Anyhow, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?"
We briefly ran her through what was planned for Christchurch, the land where there were possibilities to relocate the rugby club and the distant rumour that the council might be prepared to build a new sports complex together with our idea of investing some of our sponsorship by buying it, maybe involving the others.
"Well you have to do something to escape taxation but whether or not this is the right way to proceed, I really have no idea but I can beg the question with my boss if you like? I can also go to the planning office and get a map of the site and get some indication as to how favourably they'd look on developing it in that way. It might be they have different ideas as the government are under pressure to provide more affordable housing but given it's a relatively small acreage, I doubt that it would be considered suitable due to lack of other amenities such as schools, shops, doctors and the like. Give me a couple of days and I'll see what I can do."
The next morning over coffee the subject once again turned to how best to use our sponsorship. Benny who had been possibly the most cautious amongst us, had modified his views.
"I warm to the idea of that land by the motorway. It makes a lot of sense to buy now while the asking price is low, I mean if it drops even lower then they'll almost be giving it away and that's ridiculous. Have you seen the plans like on an Ordinance Survey Map?"
"Not yet. Jo's trying to get a copy but she's busy doing other things this week. An aerial photo would be good, give us a better idea as to the layout and position but short of chartering a helicopter which would cost an arm and a leg, I guess we're screwed."
"Not necessarily. Just after Christmas, I met up with Colin up on the common. He had used his Christmas money plus his savings to buy one of those drone quad-copters. It cost him somewhere in the region of five hundred quid, sort of like a pro job and it's got a built-in video camera. Why not ask him if he'd be willing to fly it over the area and film it?"
"Not all a bad idea. Do you reckon he'd be up for it?"
"Dunno. No harm in asking him though? I'll drop by his place and put it to him."
Benny called us just after lunch. Colin was happy enough to do it telling him he was getting bored with just circling the common and sneaking a peak through his girlfriend's bedroom window! He also thought that as the weather forecast for the next couple of days was settled with only very light winds, then might be the best time to do it. All we had to do was go into town, buy a suitable memory card and we were good to go.
The following morning we biked to training and once finished, Colin met us at Christchurch, a quick coffee and away to the other side of town.
His machine was very impressive and as he explained, not that difficult to fly although when it was windy, the video tended to be a touch blurred but this morning was very still and sunny so he thought the results would be good. It could stay in the air for three hours on fully charged batteries and while the recording was taking place, it could also be monitored on a laptop or tablet, one of which he had brought with him.
He began by following the perimeter fence, all the time recording everything together with the latitude and longitude then having done a full circuit, he guided it to the centre of the area and took the copter up to around five hundred feet, pointed the camera downwards and took footage of the entire place and job done.
Back at our flat, we all crowded round my laptop and took a closer look at the results. The images were crystal clear and when we got to the point where Colin had taken his machine as high as possible and taken the aerial shots, the size of the place finally became apparent. It was seriously big with space enough not only for the rugby club plus an amount of parking, an aquatics centre and gymnasium, there was still plenty of room for further development.
Lucas smiled at me and silently he said "I want Andy, I want!"
I replied in kind.
"Me to. Just the small matter of a two million quid shortfall."
Friday night Jo arrived home very late. We had already been training and were about to give some thought to supper when she knocked on the door.
Lucas let her in.
"You look really tired. Come on in and have a seat."
"Thanks Lucas. I'm sodding shattered but it was worth it as I've got some news you might like to hear."
Lucas called me through from the kitchen and we sat down and listened to what she had to say.
"I'm not taking credit for this, I don't believe I would've been taken seriously given my age so I managed to persuade my MD to act on my behalf.
He had a meeting with the company who own that site you've been looking at and it turns out that they had strayed from their normal business model which is property acquisition. In this instance, they decided to venture into development, build a massive industrial estate and shipping facility on the Thames estuary which was completed just as the recession hit. To date, they've only been able to lease a very small percentage of this development and they're facing a huge tax bill which, while they have the funds to settle, it will severely limit future acquisitions. The bottom line is, they're offloading much of their portfolio as they can in order to buy elsewhere, sites where they know they can turn a healthy profit."
"Where does that put us?"
"Right. The rugby club expressed an interest as did the council but they wanted to cherry pick where this firm wants to sell the site in its entirety so no deal was reached.
They are prepared to let it go for three point five million pounds so long as a deal is done as soon as practically possible. One other thing you should know is that they are a highly respected company, no fly-by-night operators these guys, they just made a bad decision so you don't have anything to be concerned about when dealing with them which reminds me. We're not into property acquisition, we handle investments on behalf of wealthy clients and companies but in this instance, we will act on your behalf if you choose to go ahead. We're also very prominent in the City of London so rather than you blokes struggling with all the red tape, we just tell them we're just the go-between. You won't get this for nothing but my boss will be very gentle with you! Happy?"
"That makes things easier so thanks sis. All we have to do is convince the guys to stump up some cash and we're on our way either to lose a pissing fortune or make a small one!"
"Spread the risk. A very good idea but then you divide any profits as and when you make any. Who's managing their affairs?"
"Not a clue Jo. Never even thought to ask them."
"I'm happy to do it if they haven't already got anything sorted. All of you under one roof might be good. That's where you started out wasn't it?"
The others were being managed by unwilling parents, not that they weren't interested but more because they didn't know what they were doing so it was an easy matter for Jo to set out her stall and sign them up and it was here the serious talking began.
"This has to be your decision so no pressure but Andy and Lucas see an opportunity to buy that land you all looked at. My Managing Director agrees that not only is it going to diminish their tax liability big time, it may well turn a handsome profit given time giving you funds that you might like to reinvest elsewhere but we need a further one point five million pounds to seal the deal. Any takers?"
Paul looked at Lor then at Benny then with a nod of agreement between them,
"We'll put up five hundred thousand a piece and up it to match Lucas and Andy's investment as and when we can. We have been offered sponsorship by Cadbury's cos we're playing an American game representing the UK but they are a well-respected UK company that's recently been bought out by the Americans so they're climbing on the back of it with a frightening amount of money but they're slow coming up with it."
"One in, all in. I'll up my stake in the same way when I can. We have to be equal partners in this otherwise it won't work."
"So……..do we put in an offer then?"
We had a brief conversation before agreeing. Jo would sign the others up so she could represent them, our accountants and solicitors would also act on their behalf and just as soon as everything was in place, she would arrange for her office to submit a formal offer on the land.
One month later and we had become the owners of thirty five acres of prime building land. Somehow the local press had caught wind of the fact that title deeds had been exchanged although the way it had been dealt with, they hadn't a clue we owned it except that the organisation who employed Jo were instrumental in its acquisition on behalf of private individuals, even our own parents didn't know to begin with but that situation couldn't be allowed to last but we opted to keep quiet until we'd had discussions with interested party's such as Gloucester Rugby Club.
Jo was quick to strike and a series of meetings were set up and negotiations started.
Looking at the photos Colin had taken, the obvious position for their relocation was the south-east corner of the area. It was immediately adjacent to the motorway so the possibility of illuminating the stadium and advertising its presence was there and with plenty of car parking space should they wish to buy it added to its attraction. We waited with baited breath.
Plots had been separated into equal sized areas and at similar prices so anyone interested could buy or lease one or more depending on their requirement, we were also prepared to consider slimming them down into smaller lots if necessary so if a restaurant wished to buy a smaller area, we could accommodate them.
I say 'we' but truthfully we didn't get that involved initially preferring to leave it in the hands of Jo's company but then, no sooner had we began our autumn term at school, everything took off as at five minutes past four one afternoon, all of us simultaneously received a text.
"Call me back ASAP but when you can all get together. Jo."
As everyone wandered into the old chem lab, we all of us excused ourselves and went outside to find somewhere rather more private. Jo answered our call almost instantly so I put it on speaker.
"Thanks for the quick response Andy, is everyone with you?"
"Yes sis and I've got this call on speaker so fire away."
"I've got to be brief so I'll stick to the facts. Gloucester Rugby Club are on side if you'll excuse the metaphor. They want the plot you thought they would and are prepared to pay two million quid but it doesn't end there. They have looked at the possibilities and given they need to move, their idea to go for broke and expand their facilities has been sanctioned by their board of directors so they also want to buy another three plots so they can build an indoor training area much the same as Worcester have together with two outdoor pitches and if you agree, you will have more than covered your investment. Their total offer is a little over four million pounds and with still over twenty-eight acres still up for grabs, you're on a winner but I caution you, keep your gob's shut until it's confirmed and contracts signed!"
"Bloody hell! Where do we go from here?"
"To begin with it will be necessary to form a company in order to absorb the tax liability with all of you being directors. We, or rather your accountants recommend that you lend whatever profit to your company as director's loans. The company will have to pay twenty seven percent corporation tax which leaves you lot clear of any personal liability but I'll explain that another time as I'm expected in a meeting in five minutes. Good news or what! See you tonight maybe. Bye."
We were stunned into silence. We had taken a huge and potentially risky gamble yet already we were in profit to the tune of over half a million pounds.
We went back to our homework but found it difficult to concentrate. All of us felt the need to share the news but mindful of Jo's comments, knuckled down as best we could and as soon as we could excuse ourselves, jogged homewards.
Benny was the first to make comment.
"I really feel the need to tell my parents, I can't in all conscience keep them out of the loop guys?"
We all agreed with him. They might not be in control but we were still kids and it wouldn't be right not to say anything.
Lucas came up with an idea.
"What time might Jo get back tonight?"
"Search me. Anytime between eight and eleven depending on her workload. Why?"
"If she could get home earlier rather than later, we could all go for a meal and set everything out to our respective parents, maybe even our coaches?"
"I'll text her that is if everyone is up for it?"
We all met at the Thai Garden restaurant where Lucas had booked a table for eighteen people, the five of us together with Mums and Dads and our coaching team. They were unable to accommodate us in the downstairs area so we had the first floor all to ourselves which actually worked well.
With Jo leading the way and with the five of us making our own comments, we managed to make things clear. Parents were shocked, our coaches excited but not one word of criticism. Gregg decided that he didn't quite understand all of the implications and asked Jo to join him on a nearby table to further explain things where he was joined by Benny's folk together with those of Paul and Lorain leaving Lucas and I together with my Mum and Dad alone to talk.
"So let me get this straight. All of you invested money in land which one of the most respected land acquisition people in the country couldn't shift and then, almost overnight managed to turn a profit on and still you are left with the lion's share of it? How did you manage that?"
"The company who owned it wanted to hive it off in one piece whereas we thought that selling it off in bite size chunks was the better way to go."
"I can understand their reasoning, they had no interest in its development, well outside of their comfort zone and probably why they caught a cold with that white elephant in Essex but you lot?"
I piped up now.
"Yes but Dad? We don't have a zone to be comfortable in. We managed to persuade these guys to pitch in, I mean it was too good an opportunity to pass by and okay, we've been lucky but we did sort of know that the rugby club had already been sniffing around but backed off for the reasons you mentioned. We offered to split up the land which made it affordable for them and so here we are."
"So how much more do you have left by way of acreage?"
"A little under twenty seven give or take."
"Shit! That's a lot of land! Have you got a game plan?"
Lorain took over at this point.
"I take it you know about the plans to demolish Christchurch? It's a while away yet but it'll leave Gloucester short of decent facilities so the idea was to approach the council to see if they might be interested in building a new complex without the expense of land acquisition. There might be grants available from central government, the EU or maybe even lottery funding, we just don't know but it has to be worth a shot don't you think?"
"I didn't know about Christchurch but it doesn't really surprise me. If they did manage to raise the funds to build on your land, that'll still leave a massive area to develop so what then?"
Paul was gagging to say something so we left him to continue.
"Okay Mr Pope but close your eyes just for a moment. Here you have a brand new stadium, training facilities and conference suites at Gloucester Rugby Clubs new ground, a state of the art swimming facility and hopefully a gymnasium so might it not be that other people may want to locate there making it into a sporting park? Before he died, my uncle was an ideas man and he always said that first we should think about the mundane and boring then give thought to the outrageous and impossible then realise that in between, there was a golden moment of inspiration and opportunity to be had. All we have to do is persuade people, get them to tap into our enthusiasm for such a project and Gloucester might end up with the finest sporting venues in the South West."
"Yes but pivotal to all this is getting the Council to build the pool and from what you tell me, that's by no means a done deal."
"No, you're right but we have the rugby club signed up so our initial outlay is covered and we can afford to bide our time. Not only that, we know they want to replace Christchurch, it's just a case of where."
"How do you propose to persuade them that your site is the best one for them?"
"Andy's idea was rather than mess about at the periphery, take the bull by the horns and get them to tell us of their plans. Once we can understand what they intend to do, sell the idea to them."
Peter had been listening intently throughout our conversation but decided it was time to put his thoughts into the mix.
"The thing is, while it's not common knowledge yet, we know for a fact that they intend to pull Christchurch down, not rumour or idle speculation, it is going to happen and what's more, under the Local Government Act 1999 they are obliged to provide a certain amount of sports facilities depending on the head of population and tearing down Christchurch would leave them falling short of that obligation so they have to replace it. Now if these kids or whoever acts on their behalf can put a package together that makes their site an attractive proposition then I can see no good reason why they wouldn't choose to go there. It isn't so far out of town as to be inaccessible, bus companies might think about operating a park and ride scheme. Somehow the rugby club has to be served on match days so it might be an idea to talk to them and see what they were thinking of doing. If it is that they were to organise something along those lines then why not climb on the back of it?"
"Okay so we wait and see. At least you kids have covered your initial outlay and I'm pleased about that."
The Chairman of the rugby club was superb. He invited us to his office at Kingsholm where he showed us the plans for developing their new site and also shared information regarding a proposal they had put to City First Bus Company to have them provide a park and ride facility from various locations within the city. He also explained that he was working on the Metro Company with a view to extending the tram system to include Hawthorn Hill, the local name for our land.
"They're not prepared to extend the line just for us but if in the future more businesses were to relocate nearby then they'd revisit it."
We took a flier and decided to tell him about our efforts to try and get the Council to build a replacement pool hoping that he wouldn't spill the beans.
"So you know about the plans to axe Christchurch then? Seems to be something of an open secret at least amongst the sporting fraternity! If you need help in convincing them, let me know and we'll back you to the hilt."
Lucas wanted to know when they intended to make a start on their new stadium.
"The answer to that is just as soon as possible not least because negotiations regarding the sale of Kingsholm are well advanced so we need to crack on with the first phase, that being the main stadium to ensure a smooth transition from one ground to the other, the rest we can think about at a later date. Do you know the councillor for this ward? I'm not much of a fan of his politics but otherwise he's passionate about the city and especially about the area he represents so it might be a good idea to talk to him, get his backing for your ideas and let him rattle a few cages on your behalf."
"Do you think there will be much opposition?"
"Difficult to tell Lucas. Local authorities do crazy things sometimes. Take Birmingham City Council as a prime example. In order to save money, they withdraw all school crossing patrols. How much will they save? A million pounds at most but then they go ahead and build Birmingham Library at a cost of one hundred and twenty five million and for what? They can't even afford to staff it! Great idea and a fantastic resource if the financial climate had been favourable but during a recession? I think not!
So far as a new swimming facility goes, apart from it being one of the finest forms of exercise around, as a way to aid recovery from injuries, it's a massive help and if it were that such a facility was built nearby then we'd enter into an agreement with the council in order to utilise it whereas we probably wouldn't go trekking across town. They receive a guaranteed income and we get a really good rehab facility."
We left the meeting feeling reasonably positive but again that sense that we were sailing uncharted waters and it made both of us nervous so we spent the evening thinking strategy. We weren't business-minded, just kids so leave all the heavy weight stuff to Jo and her boss, solicitors and accountants but we could use our sporting profiles to promote ideas as and when necessary.
We did however meet up with the local councillor. He was an okay bloke and once we'd told him the story of us buying up the land, how the rugby club were relocating there and our vision for the area he was very enthusiastic.
"I've no idea how you know about the plans for Christchurch and yes, a replacement will have to be provided. I also know about the rugby club and to have the new sports complex right on their doorstep would be terrific. Sadly that part of town has been neglected over the years so the possibility of regenerating the area in the way you visualise would be fantastic and not just for that particular end of town but also for the entire city. It's right slap bang on top of the motorway and could be an amazing way to show off the modern and vibrant Gloucester that we're working towards. If I need to talk to anybody at your end, who do I contact and how?"
"Not us! We have a holding company called Sporting Endeavours (Gloucester) Limited. The address is in the City of London's financial district but really just out of convenience. My sister and her CEO together with our solicitors and accountants do all the leg work, we just back it financially so it's best to contact Joanna Pope at this address on the card or by email or phone. I'll jot down the names and mobile numbers of all five of us backing the project should you feel the need to talk to us but all decisions are made by better and more capable brains than ours, we just have a veto in the event we're not happy about anything."
"This could work out to the council's advantage. They were keen to relocate the leisure complex here but the acquisition people wanted to sell the land as a job lot and as there was no justification for buying up thirty-five acres, the plans were put on hold. It'll be very interesting to see which way they jump now given your willingness to sell a proportion of the land. Watch this space and I'll keep you informed."
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