Kings Group interview: the borough is the bee’s knees

Karl Knipe. Photograph: Kings Group.

Karl Knipe. Photograph: Kings Group

Karl Knipe and Thomas Paine founded Kings Group in 1991 in the midst of a recession. Given the current ‘nostalgic’ echoes of those halcyon days – with the added self-immolation of the ‘leave’ vote – we figured it was worth giving them a shout. After all, the era in which they started was also characterised, as Knipe says, by “financial pain”.

Kings Group had already been in business for over twenty years before opening its Hackney branch in 2014.

“Without doubt this part of town is very different to other locations in many ways,” Knipe said. He calls Hackney “the honey in the hive that is London”, adding that it reminds him of the swinging sixties’ epicentre Petticoat Lane (actually called Middlesex Street in Shoreditch; the name was reportedly changed to remove the street’s Victorian-outraging reference to undercrackers.)

While it’s not likely we’ll see Dusty Springfield or Helen Shapiro browsing Morning Lane Tesco any time soon, Knipe is adamant that the area has kept its cool: “It’s at the cutting edge of culture, style and all things ‘underground’ but it has still retained many of its historical roots, and there’s this great mix of people from newbies to oldies.”

The housing market could be defined at the moment with the other meaning of ‘cool’ – as in “cool your jets” or “let me just pour some nice, cool water on the idea that you’ll be able to buy a house in your lifetime”.

Knipe is a little more positive about young people’s prospects, given Kings Group’s policy of promoting impressive juniors from within, which he proudly describes as the company’s “USP”. He does, however, acknowledge the chilling effect of Brexit on the housing market and points out that property prices, when compared to wages, are “challenging and unrealistic for… young and local residents”.

So, Knipe’s advice for first time buyers (FTBs)?

“If ‘practise, practise, practise’ is the recipe for young wannabee pop stars, then ‘save, save and save’, with a view getting on the property ladder, has got to be the way forward for FTBs,” he added.

“It’s realistic to expect, though, that these days the ‘bank of mum and dad’ will need to support FTBs going forward. I think without that help and financial support, most FTBs just couldn’t hope to aspire and make their dreams a reality.

“We don’t seem to learn from our excesses, and instead become complacent, not to mention our political structure encourages short term decisions for political power!”

So what keeps Karl and Kings Group ticking in the face of such challenging conditions?

“The satisfaction for me is in ensuring both young and old are able to reach their goals – be that a young couple buying their first home, an elderly lady downsizing to feel more safe in her new environment, or just employing a young person at 19 and seeing them grow and mature to senior management ten years later.”

And if things get a bit too much, in the wake of this recent cavalcade of desolation? “There’s always bird-watching,” offers Knipe, a newly invigorated ‘twitcher’.

“There’s something tranquil and restful about watching nature at work. After a hard day or week dealing with problems, my bird friends certainly make it all a bit more real and put things back in perspective.”