Insider view: Nicola Barclay, chief executive of Homes for Scotland

Nicola Barclay, chief executive of trade body Homes for Scotland, outlines her personal philosophies to Kirsty McLuckie
Picture: ShutterstockPicture: Shutterstock
Picture: Shutterstock

Job title

I’m the chief executive of Homes for Scotland the body which represents the home building industry.

Together, our 200 members deliver the majority of all new homes built in Scotland.

Nicola BarclayNicola Barclay
Nicola Barclay

How did you get started?

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I think, like many people my generation, I didn’t get the best careers advice at school. I spent a few years trying out different things while figuring out what I wanted to do before studying town and country planning at Heriot-Watt.

I really fell into home building by chance, getting my first taste of the variety that it has to offer when I joined Wimpey Homes as a home buying advisor. I loved helping customers to choose their new homes.

It was an ideal grounding and the knowledge I gained has stood me in good stead throughout my career.

After a few years in sales and then market research, I knew my interest lay more in the land buying side. This suited my degree so I moved into that field, working with a number of developers as my career progressed.

What is your typical day like?

As chief executive of a membership organisation, I liaise regularly with a wide variety of industry leaders and ensure their interests are represented. One of my challenges is to translate the commercial pressures and drivers of our members into policy ideas that government is willing to consider and support.

I love the variety. One day I might be speaking to the housing minister, or civil servants about support for SMEs, the next I’m sitting in a committee discussing the challenges of the mortgage market and how we’re going to help young first-time buyers.

The topics can range from the climate emergency to the planning system, and everything in between.

The best part of the job is the face-to-face engagement on site, hearing about the new homes being created, seeing our members’ passion up close and watching them connect with customers. It takes me back the start of my career.

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And my absolute favourite bit is our annual awards lunch. I just love seeing the winning entries and the range of quality developments and homes being built across Scotland.

What are the major obstacles in the industry?

Our recent manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections set out the areas we believe need to be addressed to ensure Scotland has the homes it needs, in the places people want to live. Top of the list is the need for an all-tenure target of at least 25,000 new homes per year. Everything else flows from that.

Our simple ask is that everyone should have access to a home that suits their needs, and this should be something we can all get behind.

What charitable work are you involved in?

I am a trustee for Norton Park, a charity that provides office and meeting space for charities within an old school building in Edinburgh. I am also a trustee for Habitat for Humanity GB which I got involved with after I went on a Woman’s Build to Mumbai, where we built a home for a family in a rural community.

I later took a team from our membership to Kenya to do a similar project.

These experiences really changed how I perceive the world – I have learned so much about community resilience and optimism from the amazing families I met.

With Covid, the charity is now working hard to address some of the severe housing challenges facing people in this country.

I’m also on the board of Women in Property, an organisation that engages with, and mentors, women in the industry.

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While much improved, it is still a male-dominated environment and having a community of like-minded women is invaluable for building up networks and support.

Where do you live?

My husband and I bought a 1930s three-bed semi on the Southside of Edinburgh about 15 years ago.

This home just felt right the minute we walked in – there was a warmth to it.

Our eldest child left home, and then returned with partner in tow while they saved up a deposit for their own home.

I don’t know if we’ll stay here forever, but I’m pretty settled here now.

Does your job affect your social life?

I do manage to switch off most weekends, although I have been known to visit the odd showhome if I’m out and about.

I am sometimes a little reticent to tell people what I do – housing can be quite an emotive topic – but the minute we start talking about how our kids are going to afford their own homes, people quickly get on the same page.

This is the irony: everyone agrees we need more homes, they just don’t always want them built near them.

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What advice would you give someone wanting to work in property?

There are so many varied jobs and roles within the industry, we could almost find a position for anyone.

Entry can be from school, through college/university, apprenticeships or transfer from other sectors.

And it’s not all working on a building site either – there are so many jobs in the office environment too.

How is the market in 2021?

The new-build housing market has been amazingly resilient. With so many people working from home and home schooling, it has made people re-evaluate their home and whether it suits their needs.

The main challenges during Covid related to when the building sites shut down.

Thankfully we, and others in the construction sector, managed to get the industry reopened fairly quickly, and I recognise how fortunate we are in that respect in comparison to many other sectors.

The main challenges ahead are to do with building the numbers of homes that this country needs.

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The creation of new homes and places – whether its housing for social rent, sale or a mix of tenures – needs a thriving industry to deliver them.

In return, the industry needs help from local councils and communities to support the delivery of the homes that are needed if our villages, towns and young people are to thrive in the future.

Life file

Born and raised Born in Singapore and raised near Edinburgh.

Education Currie High School, Heriot-Watt University (BSc Hons Town and Country Planning), Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Fellowship of Royal Society for the Arts.

Family I’m married to Ali, who works in financial services. Two kids: son, 28, a decisioning scientist – no, I have no idea either! – for the Royal Bank of Scotland; daughter, 19, studying sociology and digital media at Glasgow University.

CV My first position was a Saturday job waitressing at the Pancake Place, which had the most awful uniform ever – mop cap, pinny, the lot. I worked in a jeweller’s shop after leaving school, and then I aupaired in Austria. I came back to Scotland to study at university, and then went into the industry straight from there.

First home All my homes growing up were rented from my dad’s employers – first the British Army, and then the National Trust for Scotland. The first home that I bought with my husband was a main-door Victorian tenement flat in Edinburgh.

Plans for retirement I hope to continue working for many years to come, but will probably shift towards non-exec roles so I can indulge my love of travel as well.

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Personal motto “What’s for you won’t go by you.” That has certainly kept me sane for many a house hunt over the years.

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