Christopher Jackson to talks to the impressive Oliver Curson about his career at family company Berkeley Parks
The dynamics of a family business are always interesting. Berkeley Parks – one of the leading providers of residential parks in the UK – is no exception. Founded by John Berkeley in the 1960s, the firm is now run by David Curson, who married into the family and has run the firm since 2019, having joined in 2001 after a stint in the Fleet Air Arm.
But there’s a third generation in the mix now, and I catch up with Oliver Curson, an impressive young business leader with responsibility both in the residential side, and in managing the expanding holiday parks side of the business.
At the moment the firm has 51 residential parks, and two holiday parks. So what kind of clients are attracted by the firm’s offer? Curson explains: “The majority of our parks are for people who are fifty plus. They’re looking to retire and downsize. They want peace and quiet and don’t want too many children around.”
As the father of two charming but boisterous children, I can immediately sympathise with this desire – and even feel briefly apologetic at what my family may be perpetrating unawares on the local population.
Readers might also be interested to know that there are other perks to buying a house in a holiday park. As Curson explains: “You don’t pay stamp duty at all so nothing the Chancellor did on that last year affected us or any of our clients. In addition, there’s no requirement to pay solicitors’ fees which can save on costs.”
Curson clearly has his feet well under the table and enjoys an impressive understanding of the business, talking knowledgeably about everything from the price points and structure of the business, to the needs of the client. But he actually had an unexpected degree. “I studied motorsport engineering,” he says chuckling. “I never did any roles in that field, but at university you do learn a lot of skills – time management among them.”
Post-university, Curson trained as a marine – “my father also had a military background too so I guess I was scratching that itch” – leaving in 2018. So was it always the plan to join the family firm? “It wasn’t – although I knew the door was always open for me.”
So what does his role entail? “Day-to-day, I have two main roles. One is managing the holiday side of the business. On the other side, I deal with current residents and that could be anything from residential refurb requests or attending court hearings and tribunals. It’s quite varied what I get to do.”
So how has the pandemic been for the company? Initially, things were difficult, Curson explains: “All our income from second-hand sales and new sales just stopped overnight. But then when we came out of that period, people began to move and there was that pent-up demand. By the end of the year we found that we were where we would have expected anyhow.”
That sounds the definition of a resilient business. Even so, there were some headaches on the transactional front. “We were going to open a new Holiday Park in Essex, but that got cancelled because COVID-19 stopped it. We’ve been a bit on the back foot ever since trying to get it reopened.”
I find myself very impressed by Curson. He’s achieved a lot young, and yet he is modest with it: one might attribute that to the fact that working in a family business can often be grounding. Having said that, it’s by no means a hard-and-fast rule – and for every Curson there’s another heir to a family business dynasty who’s neither so hardworking nor so quietly knowledgeable.
So what do they look for in employees? “At the moment we have 150 employees, and really all we look for is the drive to do a good job. In terms of business direction, what we want to do is to build the holiday side.”
That, he says, is a competitive market: “You’re going in at over market value because of the staycation bubble.” Price-wise, Berkeley Parks are in a unique position: “We’re governed by the manufacture costs and if that hasn’t increased we’re not going to increase our price. The manufacturers have been increasing their prices, due to the price increase in wood and metal. We always look at what new builds cost in the same area with an equivalent floor space and aim to come in under those prices.”
There’s something decent about Curson and about the business. The firm will have much success in the years ahead.