Lawrence Kenwright About Me
Entrepreneurial socialism is what I’ve always built my businesses on.
Businesses can’t just make a profit. They have to exist to provide some larger benefit to their communities.
Don’t get me wrong, profits are great. But the more we make, the more those excesses should be put back into the world around us to help design and build projects to improve society and protect the most vulnerable.
This belief in social responsibility has been ingrained in me from early on.
I’m the youngest of three boys.
The son of a docker and Co-op shop worker.
I grew up in Walton, Liverpool at a time when the city wasn’t top of the Government’s priority for investment – or anything.
Anyone who remembers Liverpool from back then will know what I mean.
Like many families, money was tight for us. School uniforms were passed down from oldest to youngest.
Except for one year when my older brother kept his school shoes because they still fit and I – because we couldn’t afford another pair – was left to wear my Mum’s patent leather knee high boots.
They just about passed as school shoes.
I was a good student early on. But despite getting As in all my subjects I dropped out of school at 15 before I sat my exams.
Mostly this was because formal education wasn’t something to aspire to in my house.
More than once my Dad would tell us that “an education won’t do us any good” and that we’d be better off getting a job on the Docks.
Hard work pays off
I ended up not following my Dad to the Docks. My first job after leaving school was actually shovelling manure.
Eight tonnes of manure a day, every day.
This is why I’ve always had the attitude that no job is ‘too small’ for someone to do. If it needs doing, do it the best you can.
This job didn’t last long though. The well-publicised dispute between Liverpool City Council’s militant tendency and the Thatcher government took care of that as jobs became scarce and unemployment became the norm.
Luckily, I managed to get another job through the local job centre as a van lad for the retailer Ethel Austin.
This is what started to turn things around for me.
I ended up working in every position Ethel Austin had available. Eventually I was promoted to junior buyer within the group’s buying department.
This was significant because it was the first time someone had reached this position without a degree.
Going my own way
I learnt a lot at Ethel Austin, but by this point I’d caught the entrepreneur bug.
I left the retailer at the age of 23 to start my own company, Yes & Co.
This was a steep learning curve to say the least. But within six years the company had grown to £11m turnover a year with 32 locations in the UK.
That’s not bad for a kid from Liverpool who’d been shovelling manure 10 years earlier.
Moving into development
My retail business had proven a massive success, but now I was looking for something else.
And that would be property development.
In 2004 I sold the business to finance the purchase of my first building in Victoria Street.
All property purchases come with a gamble, but I still believe that with hard work and perseverance you’ll make the gamble pay off.
The 2007/8 financial crash nearly put an end to my business before it had even started.
My original plan to resell the Victoria Street property as flats ended with the crash, but out of that plan came my first hotel – Signature Living.
It’s amazing how losing everything can galvanise you to carry on.
By the end of the first year, we were operating our hotel at 80% occupancy and was consistently outperforming the established hotels in the city.
We added our second set-piece hotel to the Signature Living portfolio with the purchase of 30 James Street, the Grade II star listed former HQ of the White Star Line.
This included the city of Liverpool’s first rooftop bar.
Our innovation and early adoption of social media and online marketing quickly made us the premier hotel and leisure business in the city and turned us into a UK brand.
Not all things our own way
Of course, we’ve had the same challenges as the other hotel and leisure businesses in our industry in the last few years.
First, the 2016 Brexit vote created an atmosphere of the uncertainty that we’ve still not really got over. And then the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 wiped out an entire year of trading.
We’ve had our challenges. There’s no denying that.
But we’re still here. We’ve still got our brand and our determination to do things our way.
And with our investors behind us, we’re still moving forward as one of the biggest, most unique hotel and leisure sector brands in the UK.
Want to find out more?
Lawrence Kenwright Properties
I have two loves in my life. My first love is my family, who have consistently supported me throughout my life, both personally and professionally. My second love has to be for developing old buildings and giving them a new life and identity.
All property purchases come with a gamble, but I believe passion and determination ultimately determines whether the gamble pays off or not.
The creation of my first hotel, Signature Living, came from two weekends I was forced to endure many years ago.
The first weekend, I stayed in a hotel in Newcastle that was far away from the city centre, whilst spending a night out queuing in the cold, only to head back to the hotel before midnight. The next weekend my wife, Katie, organised a birthday trip away in a hotel. I was, however, disappointed when I was handed the €85 euro bill for 5 fims, WiFi, a bar of chocolate and a bottle of water. I decided the hotel industry needed a change, and so my passion for creating a luxurious aparthotel in Liverpool took over. My goal was to provide unrivalled accommodation, fantastic service and no hidden extras.
I was so passionate about the project, I sold my retail business and bought the Victoria Street building, which is now known as Signature Living, in 2004. After 4 and a half years of planning and designing, and thanks to the love and support of my wife and family, we opened the doors to our first clients on 14th August, 2008. This was the beginning of the rest of our lives.
Now, I’m not saying opening a hotel is ever easy, it never is, and many guest’s walked through our doors within the first few months, but it was a huge struggle. Thankfully our passion and hard work, resulted in our occupancy level hitting in excess of 80% within our first year, which is a huge feat as we had no knowledge of the Hotel industry before our baptism of fire.
Thankfully as we opened more and more apartment blocks and hotels the skills that we had hastily acquired along the way helped us to create a new style of attaining our own enquiries, which has helped with how we have defined our companies DNA that now runs right through our company.
30 James Street
In 2013, following the successful of Signature Living, myself and Katie acquired Albion House, a Grade II* Listed building that was formerly the White Star Line’s headquarters, and was designed by Richard Norman Shaw and J. Francis Doyle in 1896. The building was the HQ for the shipping company that produced some of the biggest and best ships in the world at the time of their launch, and so it was also RMS Titanic’s port of registry.
We both fell in love with the history and architecture of the building, and wanted to create a hotel that commemorated not just the White Star Line and RMS Titanic, but celebrated the city of Liverpool’s extensive maritime history.
This was no easy task, not only did we have to try and convince many individual investors to trust in our newly formed company, but we also had to contend with a very structured planning policy due to its National heritage status of Grade 2 star, you then have to contend with Conservation and the Victorian Society, if you have ever heard of the terminology of spinning plates, then this was like spinning tables.
I can see why developers do not wish to step into this cauldron and then as if it can’t get any worse you have to shoe horn a modern hotel into a listed building and bring the project in on time and on budget and then pull out your last bit of energy and try and fill the hotel, because if you do not, you could lose it all.
Quite daunting wouldn’t you say.
In April 2014, we successfully launched 30 James Street – Home of the Titanic, a Titanic-themed hotel in Liverpool. Each room commemorates a passenger or crew member aboard the famous ship, or celebrates a connection to the White Star Line company. We also launched Liverpool’s first rooftop bar, the Carpathia Champagne Bar and Restaurant, as well as the amazing Morgan’s Vault and Spa, offering a variety of relaxing spa treatments and packages.
The Shankly Hotel
The Shankly Hotel We could not be more excited for its opening. Liverpool is such an amazing city with so much history to be proud of, and my goal is to ensure our heritage is never forgotten. Bill Shankly means a great deal not just to football fans, but to the city of Liverpool, and the legacy he left behind lives on. Please browse the website for the latest news on this amazing project.
I’m very proud of my achievements over the years, and the path here has most definitely been exciting and rewarding; it is certainly a path I hope to stay on for many years to come.