“When I first started working in the North East land sector I remember that I was one of only two women working in the industry.” Sarah Armstrong, head of land and planning for Story Homes, reflects. “I was young but learning quickly in my first job out of university as a land buyer at Bowey Homes. A contact gave me a number for Nicola Rosul, who was working in the land team of Bryant Homes at the time. We met in a pub and quickly became friends – now she is an invaluable part of my team at Story Homes. It’s funny how things can often come full circle.”
The unprecedented growth of Carlisle-headquartered Story Homes into the North East saw more than 50 new jobs created in the region last year, with a total of seven developments across North Tyneside, Northumberland, County Durham and Teesside. Two further developments are due to open before Christmas, including the launch of Story Homes’ first Signature range development of 39 four and five bedroom houses in Morpeth.
“I’m pleased that Story Homes has had such a great reception in the North East and have ambitious growth plans, looking specifically at the executive end of the market.
“Our company strategy is to build aspirational homes in areas that people want to live, so when it comes to identifying land that is a key consideration for the team.”
Story Homes developments can range from 39 four and five bedroom executive homes, up to developments of 1000 new homes on partnership developments with other housing developers such as Miller Homes and Avant.
“It’s currently a priority for us to build relationships and partnerships with land owners, agents, consultants, Local Authorities and other developers to ensure we have a strong pipeline of land opportunities available to support our long term growth plans,” says Sarah.
It’s an impressive career ladder that Sarah has climbed in 16 years. Following Bowey Homes, Sarah worked for Keepmoat for three years as regional land manager in the North East, before joining Barratt Homes as senior land manager where she spent the next eight years.
“I joined Barratt Homes in 2007, just as the recession hit” she recalls. “I worked on a number of fantastic projects including a large regeneration scheme in Scotswood and Mount Oswald golf club, but it was a difficult time for construction and many people in the industry were being made redundant.
“It was during this time that I had my two girls, Eve, and Issy. I had a great team around me, and a very supportive boss. When you’re building a career I don’t think there is ever a ‘good’ time to take a break and have children. Family is everything to me though and you always find a way to make it work.”
When the opportunity came along to join Story Homes in 2015, Sarah considered it carefully. On one hand she was secure in her position with a PLC, but on the other, felt that joining Story Homes was a great step in her career with fantastic development opportunities.
“The fact that it is a family-owned company is one of the things that really attracted me. There is a real emphasis on key values which make it a unique place to work as everybody across the business really stands behind them.”
Shortly after joining the company, Sarah became a Story ambassador to help communicate and work to the company’s key values and encourage her team to do the same.
“We have experienced 46 per cent growth in the past 12 months and it is a priority for the business not to lose that culture, which is great. At Story Homes I really feel part of something bigger and as though I can really make a difference.”
“When I joined Nicola was the only member of the land team and had been working closely with the team in Carlisle to start developing the North East region. We reached a point where the region was needed its own management, which is where I joined with a completely new role as head of land and planning.
“I was able to build up the team that we have now, recruiting a planner, strategic planner and graduate planner, as well as land administrator. We have lots going on but we work closely to support each other and as a result have a great team ethic.”
At home Sarah has the support of her husband, David, a teacher, and an extensive network of family and friends. “We all help each other out to make it work – we’re very lucky,” she explains.
“A typical morning sees me getting the girls up and ready for school, then drop them off at my parents house for breakfast. I normally work until about 6.30pm and then pick them up from gymnastics club on my way home. The nature of my job means that I can often be working late or on weekends. Thankfully David’s job means that more often than not he can be on hand and school holidays are taken care of, which is brilliant.
“As a family we are really sociable. We have a caravan and love to go away with family and friends at the weekend. I think it is so important to have a good balance. When my girls start in the world of work I’ll definitely encourage them to work hard to achieve their goals, but also encourage them to take time to find a balance and live their lives to the full.”