OakNorth funds £20m Whittlebury Park expansion

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  • OakNorth Bank has completed a loan of £20m to Whittlebury Park – the Northamptonshire-based golf and leisure complex located near Silverstone circuit;
  • The loan will be used to reunite Whittlebury Park with Whittlebury Hall, the 4-star hotel conference center and spa comprising of 213 guest bedrooms;
  • The deal – which is the bank’s largest to date – brings OakNorth’s loan book to approx. £300m;
  • The bank hopes to continue building on the post-Brexit momentum in 2017;
  • HMT Corporate Finance acted as the borrower’s finance advisers on the deal, while Reed Smith provided the legal support to the bank.

OakNorth – the bank for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs – has completed its largest deal since launching in September 2015, a £20m loan to Whittlebury Park. The 300-acre site encompasses a 36-hole golf course and related clubhouse building, wedding and conference facilities, a 41-bedroom hotel, and a campsite.

The loan will be used to acquire Whittlebury Hall – a 4-star hotel, conference center and spa situated on the grounds, comprising of 213 guest bedrooms, as well as four restaurants (Astons, Murray’s, The Courtyard, and The Terrace Café), a bar, spa and leisure club with an indoor swimming pool. The hotel is adjacent to the Silverstone Circuit, the high-profile international sporting venue which has hosted recurring high profile events since its opening in the 1940s, including the British Formula One (F1) Grand Prix.

Whittlebury Park was acquired by husband and wife, Jeff and Carol Sargeant, in 1984. A staged development of the estate has since taken place to create the golf courses (built from 1990 – 1992), the Hotel & Spa facility (1998), the wedding facility (2000), the golf clubhouse (2003), and the 41-bedroom accommodation (from 2012-2014).

Over the last three years, the management’s strategy has been to develop the corporate customer base, increasing sales and marketing efforts to attract more corporate bookings. This strategy has resulted in occupancy levels averaging more than 70 per cent over the last three years, with the figure expected to increase to over 80 per cent from next year.

Commenting on the deal, Jeff Sargeant, Executive Chairman of Whittlebury Park, and Chairman of the Golf Club network, said:

“It has taken over three decades to develop Whittlebury Park into the estate it is today and as we look ahead to the future, we are keen to continue building on its success and expand further. Uniting Whittlebury Hall with Whittlebury Park will bring the entire estate into family control, and provides us with the opportunity to increase our corporate proposition and host more guests during peak times such as the Grand Prix.

“The team at OakNorth were extremely supportive throughout this process, ensuring we were kept in the loop on how everything was progressing. Their transparent and flexible approach meant the deal was completed in just six weeks from our initial meeting, rather than the months it’s taken us to get a loan from banks in the past.”

Ben Barbanel, Head of Debt Finance at OakNorth, commented:

“Since the Brexit vote, we have seen a significant boom in business as many larger lenders have been slowing down their decision and underwriting processes even more than normal. Given that the economic uncertainty looks set to continue into 2017, we expect to continue seeing this surge in demand over the course of next year.

“What’s more is that we’ve always found that in times of dislocation, the best entrepreneurs find opportunities to grow stronger businesses. Whittlebury’s ambitious plans for expansion is a great example of this – it is a strong family business that is taking strategic steps to ensure the business will thrive for generations to come.”