Ryecroft Glenton client Peter Chapman has written a fascinating book covering 150 years of family history set against a backdrop of industrial and social change on Tyneside. He recently spoke to Claire Charlton, reflecting on his career and describing how his interest in social history developed.
Peter, did you consider joining the family accountancy practice?
I come from a long line of accountants. My great-grandfather became a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in its foundational year of 1880, having set up his own practice. My grandfather and father followed in his professional footsteps. However, I never felt that accountancy was for me, although it did take me some time to find a long-term career path.
Having made that decision, how did your early career take shape?
While studying Social Anthropology at Cambridge I decided that I might become a social worker, and so after graduation in 1966 I went to the London School of Economics for a course in Social Administration. While this did not ignite further interest in social work it did give me the opportunity to study housing policy and practice, which I found very stimulating. It led to my first post, as a researcher at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies in Birmingham.
After two years the bright lights of London regained their attraction and after a further period of research I became Assistant Editor of Built Environment, a monthly town planning and architectural magazine. Wanting a more direct involvement in my areas of interest I subsequently became a social planning and housing consultant with a large international firm, splendidly called Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker and Bor. With them I worked on projects in Shetland, Basra in Iraq and Bahrain. Stimulating and enjoyable times, but I still wanted to get closer to the action.
From the mid-1980s I spent a decade working for London Borough housing departments, in Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. My areas of responsibility were strategy, finance, estate improvement, development and partnerships with housing associations.
When did you start to think about setting up your own consultancy?
I could see that central Government financial restrictions were tightening and, perhaps influenced by something in my DNA, I joined accountancy firm KMG Thomson McLintock (subsequently merging to become KPMG) as an urban renewal consultant. I built up a small team and we left to join the consultancy arm of CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy).
Management wasn’t exactly brilliant, and so I decided to set up my own consultancy. Word got around, and on a Friday I agreed to resign with immediate effect. Over the weekend a colleague who was director of a housing association agreed he would join me once he had served out his three months’ notice period, and on the Monday Chapman Hendy Associates Ltd was born, nurtured at first in the basement of my house. A chartered accountancy firm helped with the financial projections of the initial business plan, share and working capital was provided on a 50:50 equity: Bank facility basis, and a solicitor drew up reams of documentation. We were on our way.
Tell me how the business developed
We recruited widely, focussing on CIPFA and chartered accountants with experience of local government and housing association finance, taking on specialists in organisational change and moving as quickly as we could to become a niche consultancy and ‘one stop shop’ in the housing sector. Our base was in London, but we opened an office in Leeds to attract northern clients and counter such remarks as ‘so you’re just up from the smoke for a day, are you?’. One area of expertise, which turned out to have huge growth potential, was advising local authorities on the options for their housing stock given government financial restrictions. In many cases this led sooner or later to a formal ballot of tenants on whether the stock should remain with their council or be transferred to a newly set up housing association. We were a leading firm in this area, and eventually some two million local authority dwellings were acquired by housing associations in what became known as the ‘Large Scale Voluntary Transfer’ programme.
After twelve years we merged with our leading competitor, and a few years later the merged group was acquired by a listed support services company.
After such a successful professional life, how do you now spend your time?
I gradually reduced my consultancy input and took on a range of non-executive directorships and charity chairmanships. These included the National Communities Resource Centre near Chester and the Octavia Foundation, Levantine Foundation and Kensington Dragons Football Club in London. I renewed my Cambridge links, becoming Chair of the Friends of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in the city.
Meanwhile a long-standing interest in north eastern local history developed further. A talk to the South Shields Local History Group on the lives of my grandparents Sir Robert and Lady Chapman who lived in Cleadon near Sunderland (where I was born) led to my writing a book, A Tyneside Heritage, which was published in 2021 by the History Press, a work of local and family history spanning 150 years.
The book’s launch last October was opened by the Mayor of South Tyneside Council, and I am now a proud Life Member of the South Shields Local History Group.