Interview By Laurie Stone, Editor At Large
Photos by Dave Gibbons
Holiday homes add up to a fortune for entrepreneur who can’t read or write
NUMBERS count for everything in the workaholic world of multi-millionaire Creswell Welch.
The 58-year-old entrepreneur combines an analytical head for figures with an almost photographic memory.
But despite these extremely useful attributes, the wheeler-dealer, who has carved out a £50 million fortune from residential and holiday home parks in England and Scotland, has never learned to read or write.
In his first-ever major interview, Welch takes time out from his seven-day-a-week work schedule to talk to me about his incredible rags-to-riches rise from a traveller family to join Britain’s business elite.
However, only 20 minutes of our tête-à-tête took place in his comfortable office at the 80-acre Seaton Estate in Arbroath, the jewel in his ever-growing Crown Parks empire and an area known throughout the world for its superb smoked haddock.
But there wasn’t time to sample the smoked haddock or even grab a quick coffee as Mr Welch spent the next couple of hours introducing me to residents of the stunningly scenic park, pointing out the latest machinery used by his workforce and showing me his favourite place, atop his motor-powered grass cutter.
He uses the motor mower as often as his frantic schedule will allow in order to produce perfectly pristine lawns, but it also helps him to chill out.
“It’s where I can de-stress,” he admits. “I can jump on the machine and I am as happy as Larry. I am just away with my thoughts. No distractions and no phones.”
And that’s a rarity in Welch’s world where his mobile seems to trill out every few seconds.
When Welch says he didn’t have a lot of schooling he wasn’t kidding. Instead, his parents, Betty and David, instilled in him a work ethic of epic proportions; a mindset that has stood him in good stead throughout his ultra-busy business life.
The family were from a community on the outskirts of Darlington in the north east of England, but unlike many travellers they owned a bricks and mortar three-bedroom terraced home where they spent the winter months while the rest of the year they would go tarmacking around the country.
Welch, who has two brothers and two sisters, loved life on the road. He says: “I went to school for three months of the year but I didn’t really enjoy it. I didn’t fit in – I was always considered the outsider.”
He vividly recalls as a young boy aged around 12 or 13 turning up at wholesalers, Reubens, well-known to travellers, with two empty suitcases, almost as big as him, and buying a stock of tea towels, hand towels and bath towels with the grand total of £6 that he had saved up over many months.
“I sold the lot within days and had worked out that I wanted to make a 53 per cent profit. Very soon I graduated to continental quilts with the same success and those profit margins didn’t diminish.”
Welch’s business acumen saw him expand his operations by buying an ex-Post Office van – the only problem was at 15 he was below the legal limit to hold a legitimate driving licence.
But tarmacking was in his blood and he relished the 5am starts and as his experience grew, he took off to Europe and as far afield as Australia, Africa and South America.
At the age of 28, he bought his first residential home park near Blackpool, paying £170,000 for the 16-plot site. He later sold it for £350,000 – keeping up his healthy profit margin.
For the next three years he went back on the road tarmacking his way around Belgium, France and Germany before heading to Scotland where he paid £350,000 for a 110-plot holiday park near St. Andrews. It was one of his best investments as just 18 months later he pocketed a £1.5million profit.
With his new-found wealth he headed back to his old stomping ground in the north-east and he bought his residential park just outside Yarm town centre, where he is investing £4 million in a new luxury development at his Leven View site.
Welch, whose family also live at Leven View, says 24 residential properties have already been built on the site and all have permanent residents.
“And we have already had interest in the four new homes we are building,” he says. “We are also building a further ten properties at Leven View, which we expect to sell for around the £250,000 mark.”
Welch is a great believer in trust but while he sets a lot of store by loyalty, it has landed him in the financial mire when business partners have taken advantage of him and squandered millions of pounds. It hasn’t happened too often – which is fortunate – but the trust he puts in people has outshone those who have misplaced it.
Welch is happiest around the Seaton Estate which he bought in 2006 for £5.8million. His signature is a series of life-size bronze stags. The park boasts 350 residential plots and the same number of holiday homes.
He proudly points out the lawns he cuts and the driveways and paths he puts in himself.
“I have just bought a whole range of new diggers and equipment. The building team love it when they get the latest ‘toys’ to play with. That’s if they can get me off them first.”
He proudly says that with all the investment that has taken place it is now worth in excess of £20million.
Welch, who started Crown Parks in 1993, now runs 12 sites across the UK, but the development in Arbroath is where he is investing most.
He says: “Seaton Estate is our flagship and we intend to make it one of the best places to live and holiday in the country.
“I have also taken into account climate change and the need for more trees to soak up carbon emissions, so I have a major tree and woodland plantation as part of our plans. This includes a tree-lined walkway and entrance to the park.
“The holiday and residential properties we are developing there will also have insulation to match any modern home, so the end user saves money on heating while also cutting down on emissions.
“As well as both holiday and residential properties, the complex will also offer a children’s play area, bar and restaurant plus a wellness centre, which we hope will help with people’s mental health, and we are planning yoga and beauty sessions as well as a spa and sauna.
‘We have also transformed an old mansion into an exclusive entertainment venue with bars and a restaurant offering traditional pub grub. And we are also looking to offer Indian, Chinese and Oriental foods.”
One of the most interesting new properties there is the Stargazer home. Welch explains: “This is one of the most innovative developments on the complex and these homes are being built to order to a luxury standard and will allow the owners to sit back and watch the stars at night on their roof-top terrace.”
When he is not running the Crown Parks business – now joined by his four sons – Welch does plenty of charity work.
“Over the past 20 years I have donated £25,000 to the Cafe Project in Arbroath, a youth club that helps keep kids off the street. I also donate food to the local food bank, run by the Trussell Trust. And five years ago, one of our customers, who is blind, needed help so I got involved in raising £4,000 for her.”
He also saved the town’s football club 15 years ago as it headed for administration, pumping in £80,000 to keep it afloat.
Welch jumps off the grass-cutter and suggests we drive an hour up to Blairgowrie to look over another of his developments at idyllic Marlee Loch – where two of his residents in their seventies go swimming every day!
Here Welch is planning to spend £800,000 developing 12 new residential homes over the next 18 months.
Thankfully, he didn’t suggest flying down to Ashford, Kent, or Horsham, Sussex to visit the other parks in the world of Welch.
I was exhausted already… but for Mr Welch his working day was only just getting into its stride.