A Birchington business which was started from one room in a home has celebrated its 10th anniversary and the expansion in team and premises that those years have seen.
Your World Financial Services was started by village resident Duncan Forster from his home in 2013 as a sole venture but has been so successful that it is now based at the former Lloyds Bank building and has a team of eight people with two more due to be joining imminently.
Duncan grew up in Birchington and previously worked everywhere from Forbouy’s newsagents (now McColl’s) as a paperboy up to assistant manager – to being a barman at the Three Legged Toad (now Fields Café) on Birchington Square.
He then ventured to Australia for a year of backpacking and working.
His job search led him to a position at an insurance firm providing specialist accident and health insurance for self-employed and sports people.
With a flair for putting people at ease, Duncan successfully rose through this and other corporate companies organisational ranks until it was obvious his ambitions were leading him on another path.
On his return to Birchington Your World was born.
Two years later, Duncan was joined by Christopher Nurse who had 30-plus years’ experience in personal insurance.
Dad-of-two Duncan said: “Working from home offices, servicing client needs face to face and over the phone, we soon no longer needed the lead generating partnership with Money Supermarket – new client referrals and recommendations were generating the business needed.
“Word was spreading and our client base growing. Over the following years we expanded into new product areas and our team grew to what it is now. We had outgrown working from our home offices and needed somewhere for us all to work together. We also wanted to be part of a community hub.”
That community hub turned out to be the former Lloyds bank building in the Square, just doors away from his old workplaces at the newsagents and pub.
Duncan, 41, said: “The Lloyds Bank building had sat empty since 2016 and was slowly rotting away due to lack of use and upkeep. I remember walking past thinking ‘why doesn’t someone do something with that building?’ Then it came up for sale. I viewed it and knew it would be a great home for our business – a building that was steeped in character and history, located in the centre of Birchington which I love so much.
“The fact that for over 125 years it had been a bank, a place where people had gone to deal with their finances, was a brilliant fit.”
In 2019 he went to a London auction and bought the property, which had suffered very bad water damage from an extremely leaky roof and flooded basement.
Duncan, who is also a director of Birchington Together CIC and helps with the village Fiver Fest and Christmas Lights fundraisers, said: “We have actually kept a lot of the bank’s original features, including the cashiers counter in the main office and the vault in the basement. Our clients say they think it’s great and we certainly love working here.”
Very soon after purchasing the bank Covid hit and brought with it a string of delays and knock on effects to Duncan’s plans. Despite this he renovated the ground floor into the and grew the team.
He said: “Covid was obviously terrible for so many reasons. It was certainly bad timing to buy the office building and not long after that we were in lockdown, which totally changed the face-to-face nature of doing business.
“We were faced with the subsequent economic turbulence and the following high inflation driving up mortgage rates. These were difficult times for everyone, fortunately we survived and continued to grow.”
And there are more plans, which include boosting Birchington’s community and local economy by developing the upper floors of building to create a co-working space for small businesses, hot-desks and start-ups.
Your World has a team of people which can provide expert advice in many areas of insurance and mortgages. Via its sister company and other trusted firms they can also assist services such as wills, trusts, Power of Attorney and niche borrowing.
Duncan said: “Our goal is to continue to be a company that advisers are proud to work for, that clients trust to protect their needs and one that supports and promotes the local community however we can.”
To mark the 10 year milestone two events were organised by Duncan’s partner and mum to their two boys Hayley.
A daytime event featured competitions, games and prizes, a free Easter egg hamper raffle, free refreshments, goodies and freebies. There were also free Easter eggs for all the children in attendance.
The winner of the giant Lindt Bunny and hamper of Easter Eggs was Lucinda from Birchington. Lucinda plans to share the eggs with some of her neighbours, but might keep the bunny to herself!
Duncan said: “The afternoon event went fantastically and was very well attended. All the people who came said how lovely it was with one lady mentioning on a Facebook post that we “should look into [setting up] a half term holiday club”, as her kids had so much fun.
“As a team we could not have been happier, gaining several enquiries for mortgages and insurances, soit looks like we will be helping even more people as a result.”
In the evening there was a drinks and canapes reception, to thank clients and friends of the business with fizz and catering from the Cow Shed Bar and Grill.
Duncan said: “We had an amazing show of support from customers, fellow local businesses, a couple of local councillors, loads of kids and a number of people who have been part of our journey, including some tradespeople that helped me renovate the Bank building when I bought it 4 years ago.
“The last ten years have absolutely flown by and it has been quite a ride!”
A self-made man. Top class, with a first class mind. A good example of a human being. Good luck for the future.