Benelux and Germany”. J

That first meeting led to the two becoming firm friends and during the next decade they kicked around the idea of setting up a business together. By 2013, they believed there was a clear opportunity “to buy good quality regional assets where purchase prices could be repaid through contracted rental receipts alone and secure debt on them at competitive margins”. It was a simple strategy: assemble portfolios, refinance and asset manage them and sell at a profit while this window of opportunity remained open.

Like many good double-acts, the two have complementary skillsets. Craig reports: “I suppose Nick’s role is more finance and strategy. Mine is more deal origination and asset management. However, as time goes on, the cross- over has got deeper”.

With the support of two private investors – one from the UK and one from the US – Oval was quick off the mark and completed more than £100m of acquisitions in its first six months. Prior recalls: “Our financing enabled us to be very agile from the start and complete on transactions within a 10-day timescale. We had around £200m of assets after the first year and traded our first portfolio within two years”.

A series of portfolio transactions – all named after famous cricket grounds – has followed and Oval currently has around £300m of assets under management. Most of these are UK regional offices but it is a scheme in Digbeth just to the south of Birmingham city centre which is occupying much of the company’s time at present. In the late cycle, Oval’s focus has moved onto bigger projects where rigorous asset enhancement and placemaking is required to drive value.

The Digbeth project combines both an existing vibrant urban environment with the potential for substantial development. The area is steeped in manufacturing history and once was the place where iconic British products such as HP Sauce, Typhoo Tea and Bird’s Custard were made. It is here that Craig and Prior have assembled a 16-acre estate centred around the former Custard Factory – which itself is emblematic of how this area of Birmingham is evolving.

This post-manufacturing landscape which features buildings of many periods has become a hub for 21st-

ames Craig and Nick Prior first met in Brussels airport in 2004. Their respective roles at Kenmore and Revcap meant they were, as Craig recalls, “thrown together to do due diligence on some industrial and retail warehousing portfolios in

century businesses. Craig reports: “There are graphic designers, there are web designers, there are ad agencies, there are TV production companies. There are set designers, metalworkers, music schools, nightclubs and event venues. You couldn’t get a more diverse and exciting environment”.

Four years of research and negotiation culminated around 18 months ago with Oval’s acquisition of The Custard Factory and surrounding properties. The estate already has around 1m sq ft of business space and offers the long-term potential for creating more than 1.5m sq ft of new space through a combination of adapting existing buildings and new build.

Its environment is a platform that any mixed-use developer would die for and – given its creative edge – it’s no surprise that Digbeth is believed to be on Channel 4’s shortlist as a possible new home for the operations it’s looking to relocate from London.

For Oval, Digbeth is a very long-term project and in the first months of its ownership, it has concentrated on getting to know the estate’s businesses and people.

Oval: the shape of things to come

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