Perhaps property and construction have been in Andrew Southern’s blood from the beginning.
As he points out, he was born in Nether Edge Hospital, which was to be turned into a residential development!
Some 44 years later, the former Tapton School student heads the London-based Southern Grove group, which specialises in large residential-led mixed use projects.
Much of the attention is on London, but he remains closely tied to his home city.
One of Southern Grove’s companies, Future Generation, focuses on student accommodation and is preparing for the opening of Steel City, a £20m complex near West Bar.
Andrew takes satisfaction and pride in how a development on such familiar territory became the catalyst for buying sites for student schemes across the country and, now, across the world.
His parents still live in Sheffield, and he returns regularly to his roots, in particular updating his sports interests, from boxing and weightlifting to watching Sheffield United.
He has more than 20 years in the property and construction business, previously holding executive positions at Hadley Property Group, Hadley Mace, Catesby Property Group, Countryside Properties and Mace Group.
He does not hide his ambition. “Ultimately I wanted to be the boss.”
And his career supports his belief: “If you have a dream and vision, you can achieve it.”
Chairing Southern Grove, the company he founded in February 2103, he has secured planning consent and built more than 1,000 residential units, with a GDV in excess of £350m.
He is described online by somebody who worked with him “an inspirational manager” and “a great leader”. Another says: “I admire his tenacity and attitude which makes for an incredibly positive work ethic and successful track record.”
For Andrew, his philosophy is fairly simple. “It’s all about people at the end of the day – selecting the right people, working with the right people, the team work. I am still making mistakes, but we are getting better and better.”
His career developed on the back of schoolboy enthusiasm for architecture, pure maths and art.
After Tapton, he earned a Masters Degree in architectural engineering from the University of Leeds, with one year spent at Penn State University in Pennsylvania.
His own experiences of student accommodation helped to shape the approach of New Generation, launched in March 2017.
There was a hall of residence in Leeds that was a four-mile bus journey from university, a shared house that was burgled three times in a year, “fantastic” accommodation in America and, in his final year, a quiet studio in a converted house that allowed him to work in peace.
“If you provide something nice, people treat it with respect,” says Andrew. “People will cherish well-designed high quality accommodation. And if the accommodation is good and secure, you can get on with your studies.”
Meanwhile, students do not want long bus journeys every day. Steel City is on the edge of the city centre.
Due to be ready for the autumn academic term, it sets out to be a stylish and high tech home to some 350 students, “breaking the mould of traditional student halls”.
A mix of high quality cluster accommodation, self-contained studios, duplexes and townhouses is taking shape in Hollis Croft, traditionally part of the St Vincent’s neighbourhood, near the University of Sheffield’s engineering faculty.
The latest technology is promised through a partnership with Samsung, providing air conditioning and the latest Samsung kitchen appliances, wi-fi and TVs. Another partnership will produce a Les Mills fitness studio.
A rooftop ‘sky lounge’ is designed as a ‘networking hub’ – a place to encourage students to get out of their rooms and mix in a striking environment. “Part of going to university is meeting other people,” says Andrew.
“We will offer a flexible space and they can make what they want of it. We want to create a culture where you can work hard and play hard. We want to help students create their own identity.”
He adds: “Steel City is a really exciting scheme which ticks every box. We acquired the land, got planning permission and are constructing and operating the building.
“We like to think we are a high-end product aimed at working class and middle class families. Rents start at £139 a week, which is not cheap, but is not off the charts. We offer a lot of facilities – air conditioning, a safe in all units, the deal with Samsung …”
Schemes such as Steel City are also designed to reflect changing times. “There’s the perception of students getting drunk all the time, yet one-third of young people don’t drink. That’s what we are embracing in our schemes.”
Future Generation – a joint venture with Bahraini investor Tadhamon Capital – is rolling out similar upmarket student developments in locations such as London, Leeds, Nottingham, Loughborough and Cambridge.
More recently, though, ambitions for student numbers have been raised.
“Two years ago, we were looking for 10,000 over five years in this country,” says Andrew. “It’s already 6,000. Now we are talking about 100,000 worldwide, with Europe our biggest focus.”
Southern Grove’s remit covers residential development in London, sales and marketing strategies, architecture and interior design, financial structuring and building techniques to unlock the full potential of residential sites.
It prides itself on its joint venture partners, supply chain and professional advisors.
“We do offices, hotels, we own a golf course. We are doing a 27-storey tower, all affordable housing, in West London,” says Andrew.
London projects range from the proposed conversion of a former art deco cinema in Bethnal Green into a 130-bed boutique hotel in a joint venture with London Standard, to securing planning permission for a change of use from offices to a 220-bed apart-hotel with a rooftop bar and restaurant in Aldgate.
Back in Sheffield, Andrew’s business muscle is matched by down-to-interests that run to his enthusiastic support for Titanium Strength Gym in Fitzwalter Road, off City Road, which is described as “the strength capital of the north”.
He sponsors Phil ‘Titanium’ Roberts, England’s second strongest man, who runs the gym.
Andrew has his own sporting pedigree. “I used to play for Hallam FC. I used to run, box, weight-train and go mountain biking in the Peak District every week.”
Some things haven’t changed.
“If I want downtime, Sheffield is where I go. There’s the infrastructure, the sports facilities, two fantastic football clubs, the quality of the air, the water, the education.”
He points to the large number of students who stay and live in the city.
“I’m a big advocate of Sheffield. There are some good people. Sheffield City Council were fantastic. We are passionate about the architecture and the planning team were well briefed and gave us a very clear remit. As a developer you want to know what you can and can’t achieve.”
It was a chance meeting with Sheffield-based property consultant Tan Khan at MIPIM, the annual international real estate event in Cannes, that led to Steel City.
They got chatting and discovered a strong Sheffield connection. Andrew tells the story of how his mother was a teacher and taught Tan’s twins at Hunters Bar School.
“He introduced me to the Hollis Croft site and we created the business on the back of that.”
Future Generation is working on the development with Sheffield-based architects Axis Architecture and Nottingham-based Clegg Construction.
Andrew is leaving the door open to possible further development in his home city, but not more student accommodation, believing the market is reaching saturation point.
Sheffield has 70,000 students and purpose-built accommodation for 27,000, he says.
Compare that with Milan’s 100,000 students and 1,000 units. Which explains why Future Generation is buying sites in places ranging from Milan and Florence to Cork.
“Samsung want us to do things in Korea, we are going to China in February. We are getting land in Toronto and Melbourne.
“We are going to take it worldwide and it all started with this site in Sheffield.”
And, before then, don’t forget the old Nether Edge Hospital …