In the rolling Northampton countryside lies the picturesque Lamport Hall estate. As a Grade-1 listed site, it is historically important and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about its heritage. The sprawling estate is owned by the Lamport Hall Preservation Trust, whose key objective is to preserve the historic building and its contents of art and antiques for the benefit of the public.
To do this, the Trust owns and manages an extensive investment and property portfolio that features 40 residential units, 70 commercial units, 3,000 acres of farmland and 3 farm tenancies.
While the historic site is a striking reminder of the past, there was a need to bring important parts of the Trust into the present, particularly their processes and systems for managing this expansive portfolio.
We were running a particularly manual, paper-based system which didn’t utilise technology at all,” says Mark Herrod, Director of the Lamport Hall Preservation Trust.
There was an awful lot of paper flying around and key dates of leases were managed by looking at a paper diary."
With a sizeable number of tenancies to manage, Mark and his small team had to keep track of rent levels, repairs and statutory compliance information with this difficult, paper-based system. That was a cause for concern as it could leave them in a vulnerable position if something was to go wrong.
Mark joined the Trust a year ago and was previously managing part of the Church of England’s property portfolio, which similarly included a mix of farmland, residential and commercial properties. There, his team worked with external agents and it gave him an insight into the kinds of systems needed to improve efficiency and compliance when he came on board at Lamport Hall.
I compared a number of different property management systems and Re-Leased met the needs of what I was trying to do better than any of the other systems. It also came recommended by other people who use the system.
One significant reason was its ability to integrate with the new accountancy software we're installing at the moment called Xero. The integration will give me confidence in the way we're managing income from property and ensuring that we are open to scrutiny.
We can be opened up to audits from the UK Charity Commission, HMRC - the tax body, and any other organisations which govern legislation that affects us."
By building out a robust system, the Trust will be able to ensure compliance and that it is not missing any critical dates, such as rent reviews, termination dates and notice periods, as well as keeping on top of rent arrears and other important pieces of information.
The ideal state for me is that, at the touch of a button, we will be able to generate reports that will answer questions like, ‘What is our current total rent?’, or ‘How many properties have had their gas safe certificates renewed this year?’ All these very basic pieces of information, which we couldn’t quickly access before."
Mark is looking forward to setting up his property manager with the tools and systems required to properly manage the Trust’s properties and provide frequent updates on their performance.
It will be a huge relief when I can say to our property manager, ‘Give me an update on what the situation is, property-wise.
The property manager will feel good because he will have access to the information and will be able to show me that everything is up to date and done properly. And I will feel good because I will be confident that everything necessary is being done by embracing best practice."
For Mark and the Trust, Re-Leased is just the first part of a wider strategy to rejuvenate their dated systems. The filing cabinets in the archives and attic rooms of the estate are set to be digitised and moved onto a secure cloud service on UK-based servers. This is another key step that will both ensure compliance and make information readily accessible. And that’s just the start. Once their systems and data are sorted, Mark is eyeing up the potential of bringing augmented reality to the Lamport Hall tour experience and truly moving the estate into the future.
Re-Leased sets the tone within the office for what can be achieved and helps to inspire other members of staff to utilise technology.
We've even just secured funding to plan some augmented reality experiences within the hall, outside in the gardens and the parklands whereby visitors will download an app on their smartphone and walk into the library, and they'll see a member of the Isham family, the former owners, sitting at the desk in the library ready to tell them a story.
We really want to get going with technology and use it to the best effect to achieve our charitable objectives and obligations, which are to ensure that as many people as possible can visit and experience Lamport in different ways. The digital experience particularly is more important than ever in the current climate."