For our 50th birthday we’re heading back to the year it all started

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An important part of the Swoffers’ success story is that we are wholly owned by five Directors who all work in the business. That ethos was established 50 years ago by our founders.

As part of our Golden Anniversary celebrations we’ve been finding out more about our early days. Adrian Heyworth is best known now as the former leaseholder of Herm along with his wife Pennie. But in his 20s, Adrian was working at Swoffers and became a director.

Pat Swoffer and Richard Read started Swoffers on 17th July 1972, and Adrian joined the team at the end of that year. Their first office was in the building just up from the Swan Inn on St Julian’s Avenue. After about five years there, they moved up the hill into a corner office of the current premises.

Initially the new office did not have the correct planning permission because it was classed as retail. As a temporary get-around Swoffers sold fine art in its windows before it secured a change of use.

Pat and Richard have both died, so Adrian is the living link to those early days. He recalls a very different working lifestyle in comparison to now.

‘I’ll be quite frank, it was actually very easy, it was easy pickings in those days and low overheads.  We didn’t work nearly as hard as people do today.

‘We would get in at 9am, we’d have an hour and a half for lunch and it necessitated playing squash so you could meet and make contacts and socialise, and we made sure we were finished by five o’clock so we could go sailing.

‘It was far less professional. I have three members of our family who are chartered surveyors, and they work far harder, and the sort of compliance issues are much greater than ours in those days.

‘I take my hat off to them because they really do work hard. They have a different ethos, it’s much more competitive.

‘For us, life was fun all the time.’

Pat Swoffer had been an RAF man before returning to Guernsey. He tried his hand at horticulture and he did a stint flying for Aurigny before starting up Swoffers. He was in his early 40s at this time, and he was known as a very sociable character who knew lots of people through sport and charitable endeavours.

Richard Read was from the UK, he was the accountant and was regarded as very bright and intelligent.  Adrian was the 20-year-old, nice, clean-cut, young man. He would spend a lot of time going to the airport to meet potential open market settlers, to try to charm them and encourage them to buy a house.

At that time the open market was very buoyant because of high taxation in the UK, including capital gains tax and death duties.  In comparison, the local market was slow. The local finance industry was still in its infancy, and in its first decade Swoffers helped banks move to the island by securing banking halls and homes for key staff.

Nowadays the characters working in property are perhaps slightly less flamboyant. The long hours and stringent compliance rules mean there is less time for playing squash and throwing dinner parties. But in the early days, having a wide social network was important.

‘It was all about contacts, who you knew, and we were a good partnership in the context that we had very good contacts.

‘As Swoffers developed, Penny and Maggie were brought in and they were devastatingly successful, persuasive young women who were well-known.

‘They really built up the business, they knew how to socialise and look after the open market people .’

Technology-wise it was a completely different world with no computers and mobile phones.

‘There was a box containing cards with all of the applicants, and you would have a property and you would be looking at all of the applicants, and I always remember Pat Swoffer would say “somewhere in that box is somebody who will buy that house”.

‘We had an association with an estate agency in Buckinghamshire called AC Frost & Co, and they had a very modern card index system.

‘There were lots of holes in the cards to indicate small house, big house, garden, whatever.

‘They were all in a rack and you’d put a pin through to find which ones married up.’

Adrian left Swoffers in 1980 so that he and his wife could take charge of Herm. He said he was proud to have been part of a company that has been so successful. He finds it rewarding that even to this day he still sees people who he encouraged to buy open market homes, and they tell him they’re glad they did it.

‘Almost without exception they have been bowled over with what Guernsey has had to offer, and I’m sure it’s the same with new people today.’

Today the team at Swoffers is more than 30 strong, with some having enjoyed more than 20 years in the business, and there are others who have more than 10 years. They are proud, competitive, hardworking and successful individuals who strive to achieve the best result on behalf of their clients. There is a family-like atmosphere in the office with everyone supporting each other. Swoffers remains in safe hands.

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