Coffee & Conversation With Hacer Developments' Carwyn Davies

Carwyn Davies is the managing director of Hacer Developments, which is a property investment and development company, focussed on urban regeneration and bringing nature into living and working spaces. 

We’ve been really interested in biophilic design, especially in our own projects, so when we learned of Hacer’s plans to transform a building in Swansea into a multi-storey, multi-purpose biophilic living and working space with a community urban farm, we had to see it for ourselves. 

For our fifth episode of Coffee & Conversation, we visited Carwyn at the building site to get a sneak peek at what Hacer have planned for the building and to talk to him about Swansea’s regeneration, his sustainability goals, and why biophilic living is the future.

Carwyn Davies, managing director of Hacer DevelopmentsWhat made you get into property development? 

By default, I suppose. I did a degree in construction management and just rolled along from there. I always had an ambition of running my own business and we built some housing and what have you, and over the last few years we’ve gone on to do some more commercial schemes. We did the Wales Air Ambulance HQ and we’ve then decided we wanted to look at more innovative things, hence why this biophilic project has arrived. 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Llandybie, which is not far from Coaltown in Ammanford, so I understand that legacy, that history. It’s the last village on the edge of the coalfields, so the two are very similar in their communities and their sense of place—I’m very proud to come from Llandybie. 

Inside Hacer Development's biophilic living project at Picton Yard, Swansea. Who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by people who innovate and have a go at doing something different and new. People who have got ideas that change the way we exist always push the boundaries. Those are the kinds of people who inspire me, and there are organisations that do that, too. There’s a company coming to Swansea now to do some property development called Urban Splash and they’ve done some great schemes in poor cities. So that kind of stuff; they innovate, and that is so much more fun than the run-of-the-mill. 

What made you want to invest in Swansea’s regeneration? 

We’ve had an office in Swansea for the last ten years. We knew there was an ongoing regeneration project so we looked at this building about six years ago and realised it was in the heart of where things were likely to happen, so we bought it. It had tenants at the time who vacated in 2020, which gave us time to build up a proposal and a scheme. 

Things are happening here, and we want to be where it’s happening. 

A map of Swansea inside Hacer Development's biophilic living project at Picton Yard, Swansea.

Why have you decided to make this project biophilic rather than just standard construction? 

It’s far more interesting. I think it’s the way the world has to go in terms of climate change and how we live in urban environments. We need to create more cohesive communities; I think that’s something that’s probably been lost over the last few decades, and we need to bring that back.

I hope biophilic living will be the reason people want to come here, becoming part of something. It’s got a great wellness benefit for everybody and creates a community where people can meet. On our roofs here we’ll have gardens, which will be a great place for people who might not want to go out regularly but want to get out and tend to their patch. Community creates a real driver for regeneration, and without community, you’re just building buildings, and buildings on their own are nothing, really. They’re just structures. 

It’s how you live, work and operate in that environment that creates regeneration, and the biophilic concept is about looking at how we can live more sustainably and how we can create communities that engage with everybody. 

Plans for Hacer Development's Picton Yard project, Swansea

What are some of your community/sustainability-based goals for this space?

I think the success of this project is going to be when, in five years’ time, it’s still vibrant and going strong. It’s an innovative project, it hasn’t probably been tried across the UK to this extent. So, I think the success is not when we finish building it and see how pretty it looks, it’s seeing in five years’ time (our offices are going to be here) that it’s being run by the community for the community and it’s moved on again in its concept. 

That’s going to be amazing, having your office here! 

Oh it is. I just want to hold its hand for a bit! We’ve lived and breathed this and invested so much time and energy in this. You could build it and just walk away, but it’s going to be about proving it as an operational model. Being here ensures that when issues arise we can actually help and address those. 

Inside Hacer Development's biophilic living project at Picton Yard, Swansea.

What are your hopes for the future of Swansea, or South Wales in general? 

Swansea, Wales, South Wales; I think we’ve got a real opportunity, the fact that the Welsh Government supported this scheme through its innovative housing program to allow us to do this innovation is a huge thing, it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the UK. So that does give us an opportunity to really push the boat out in innovation. I hope Wales grasps the green agenda and really drives it forward. There are some great companies, there’s also Welsh Government, the ministers; they see that as a positive and that’s heartening to see. I think also the fact we’re a small country helps, and we can talk to those decision makers and put our ideas forward.  

How can we all incorporate sustainable/biophilic living into our own spaces and lives?

Well I know Coaltown are keen to incorporate that. I think it adds so much value and shows a sustainable approach and it deals with climate change, and that’s really good to see.

How can we all do it individually? We can decide to change the way we live. I think we need to buy local, support those community organisations, reduce our movement of food—that’s a massive carbon generator. Realising how we got here is actually quite good; we’re lucky where we are. If you just unearth some of the products we get locally, we’ve got great products, produce, food… and a lot of skill here. It’s about upskilling, so if we can get ahead of the curve in Swansea and be the place where people say, “go there, they’ve got these schemes where they’ve innovated”, it creates skillsets that we can transfer to other parts of the country. 

Mount Pleasant, Swansea, viewed from the rooftop of Hacer Development's Picton Yard project

What’s your favourite part of a project—the beginning, middle or end?

I suppose the very beginning when you come up with the ideas is really exciting. We’re working with people like Swansea and Cardiff University as well as partners, architects and engineers, and it’s great giving them the liberty to come up with good ideas. That’s the key, giving people that opportunity. You don’t always take everybody’s ideas on board because it might be too costly or not effective to do, but I think it’s great to let people come up with ideas and then filtering and seeing how they can become applicable—are they feasible financially, technically etc.?

So yes, I think the beginning is the exciting bit. There are parts which are high stress, obviously, like putting all the money together and then getting onsite. I suppose the part that I find the most rewarding is when you can stand on the finished product and say “it turned out like we hoped it would.” I hope that’s the case here!  

What are you most excited about right now?

I just think there are some great ideas, and we’ve got some in and around Swansea. There are organisations here that are coming up with phenomenal ideas on how to be more sustainable, so that excites me. The potential new technologies that are out there. We all need to work together in trying to deliver them sooner because climate change is such a pressing issue. 

Thanks so much, Carwyn, for showing us around the site and for sharing all of your insights into sustainability and the future of Swansea. We’re feeling very inspired! 
If you’d like to find out more about the work Hacer does, check out their website. For more information or updates on the Biophilic Swansea project, watch this space.

Inside Hacer Development's biophilic living project at Picton Yard, Swansea.

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