FROM its beginnings in Dorset and Hampshire, Churchill Retirement Living has become a nationwide success story in less than 20 years.

At its helm are brothers Spencer and Clinton McCarthy – the name might be familiar because their father, John, is he of Bournemouth-based retirement builder, McCarthy and Stone, fame.

Spencer, who is chairman and group managing director, started out at McCarthy and Stone, working his way up from apprentice carpenter to advising the board on site purchases.

He said: “In 1994 I decided I wanted to go and make my own way.”

Spencer and Clinton started Emlor Homes, which built thatched cottages in Dorset and Wiltshire.

The firm won house-builder of the year in 1998 and the pair were offered £10 million by house-building ‘godfather’ Tony Pidgley for the company, which they declined.

They had offices in Lymington and then in 2000 bought a nursing home in Southbourne, which they turned into 38 retirement apartments. They then decided to sell their sites and concentrate on retirement housing.

Spencer added: “After that we felt we needed a bigger office and we found a site in Ringwood, where we built our new offices.

“We expanded from there. The company has grown to last year doing 265 sales, turning over £61 million and that was our biggest year.”

Spencer said the firm saw the recession on the horizon and it was the start of some tough decisions.

“In August 2007 we had to make some redundancies, which is never a good thing; we cut the workforce from 230 to just under 100 over the course of about eight months.

“Sales had fallen off a cliff and to survive it had to be done. We sold sites and mothballed sites.

“We restructured the company and looked at our cost base and we came out the other side very healthy.

“We’re back on expansion plans now and we have more than 300 staff,” he said.

Churchill now has offices in Ringwood – its head office – Byfleet in Surrey, St Albans in Hertfordshire and Bromsgrove in the Midlands. Its developments cover the country, from Wetherby in the north to Penzance and Margate.

Spencer said: “It’s a business that makes money and grows, but when you sit down and talk to the residents some of them have been lonely for years and they come into these developments and make friends.

“It’s not to do with the bricks and mortar, it’s the lifestyle. The lodge managers make these developments; they are a big part of our success.

“We’re just about to go on a further expansion plan, with £500 million of investment over the course of the five-year plan that we’re putting into place.

“The current head office is 10,000sqft and we’re expanding that by a further 10,000sqft. We have 80 employees (in Ringwood) and we’re looking to double that in the next three years.

“People are living longer and the Government have now recognised that we need to be providing more housing for the elderly.

“A lot of elderly people are in three-bedroom houses and it can release those and put them back onto the market.”

Churchill also works with other firms to offer people help with selling and moving.

“When you come and meet people and hear their stories it’s really rewarding. We run coffee mornings and this year we raised £21,000.

“In the last few years with the help of all our owners across the country in 65 developments we have raised £250,000 for Macmillan.”

The company has won many awards and has made the Sunday Times Top 100 companies list four times; it launched its own awards scheme last year to recognise older people making a contribution to society and supports Bournemouth Rugby Club, Ringwood Town FC and Ringwood Carnival, as well as setting up a fundraising initiative with Age UK.

Spencer and Clinton featured at seventh place in the Daily Telegraph’s Property Power List last month, alongside names like the Duke of Westminster, George Osborne and Tony Pidgley.

The firm has just opened a development in Wimborne and has started on one in Christchurch, due to open next year.

“We’re very cautious. It’s growth through steady investment.

“The market is improving, but it’s still a very tough market. It’s a slow recovery, which is a good thing instead of boom and bust,” said Spencer.