Lunch & Learn with Nick Cuff, Pocket Living

For a number of ULI UK Young Leaders, budget day had a treat in store…but not from the Chancellor. The day was the opportunity to share lunch with/ learn from Nick Cuff, Land Director at Pocket Living, the developer of affordable housing in London. Over lunch, kindly hosted by Alexandra Jezeph at JLL’s Warwick Street home, Nick (one of Property Week’s “Forty Under 40”) shared his career wisdom, as well as how Pocket is disrupting the residential market.

Nick shared a number of invaluable thoughts on career progression. Three broad themes stood out:

  1. Employer values: If you don’t 100% identify with the values of an employer, why hang around? There is no doubt that Nick’s enthusiasm for Pocket and its objectives came across.
  2. Long term view: Shop around for experiences, especially at an early stage in your career, taking a long term view and don’t worry too much about any “traditional” career ladder. Nick gave the example of his move from CBRE into the planning department at Wandsworth Council, which many might have considered a risk for a developing 28 year old real estate professional.
  3. Continuous improvement: Always try to improve, with a focus of developing a general set of skills. Nick referred to his varied background, including time spent as a researcher in the House of Commons, as well as his decision to twice step back into academic training (taking courses on planning and real estate economics).

As for Pocket, Nick described how there is much more to come (e.g. growth of Pocket’s 2 bed concept) and also a frank admission that Pocket cannot solve the housing crisis alone. The industry (in a public and private capacity) needs to bring forward other innovative solutions. Nick noted that in housing delivery, London risks losing its innovative edge. With regional cities (e.g. Birmingham) pushing ahead, he cited the risk that developers would simply move their money out of town.

Nick also explained how the Pocket concept has developed, together with the many challenges along the way. In particular, Nick described Pocket’s initial struggles to persuade planning authorities of proof of concept. He amused the audience with one story of a councillor questioning the Pocket product on the basis that there was no room for a piano, clearly a priority of many a young Londoner looking to get on the housing ladder! Now in 16 London boroughs, Pocket have clearly overcome initial scepticism but challenges remain. Nick explained the importance of developing and maintaining the Pocket brand, a theme receiving increasing attention in the industry. On this point, Pocket’s move into modular build was vital to not only improve speed of delivery, but also maintain quality and consistency of product. From a lawyer’s perspective, it was also fascinating to hear how Pocket “police” the product, and in particular, the transaction restrictions that apply.

With financial backing from Mayor Sadiq Khan and US equity partner Related Companies, Pocket is all set to scale further with Nick set to be a key part. Those in the audience will watch with much interest. On behalf of those listening, thank you to Nick, Alexandra and the wider ULI team.

Words by Edward Glass, Forsters LLP 


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