I can’t remember exactly when the idea first came to me, but I know I’ve always hated how the road ran right along Exmouth seafront. It’s always seemed such a barrier to the beauty and potential of the beach and water beyond – and a logistical nightmare for families with young children.
Then, in 2011, East Devon District Council published plans to regenerate part of the seafront. Various plans were put forward – and ultimately dismissed – but this sowed a seed of an idea in my head.
Also around this time, while wanting to learn a new watersport, I discovered Edge Watersports – a small family-run business operating from an out-of-the-way temporary building at the back of an industrial estate. Despite the unpromising look of their premises, they had lots of customers and I remember thinking how, with the right location, they could inspire thousands of people to get out and use the water.
And so a vision was formed: to make this area of Exmouth a destination for watersports. I wanted to make the most of the council’s suggestion of re-routing the road further inland, and could imagine a landmark, sustainable building on the seafront, making the waterfront more accessible and offering lessons and kit hire right there on the beach.
By 2014, I decided to commit myself and propose my vision.
At the time I was on the board of directors for Exeter’s Grenadier Estates which specialises in sustainable, ethical real estate, designed to make a lasting impact. I knew Grenadier would be perfect to develop this area and create a legacy for the community of Exmouth, as well as a destination for holidaymakers and watersports enthusiasts alike.
Sideshore – in Exmouth, and for Exmouth
I truly believe that enabling people to spend more time on or by the sea has immense benefits. Watersports promote a healthy lifestyle and improve physical and mental wellbeing. For those who don’t want to be in the water, being by the water is the next best thing.
Sideshore isn’t just for watersports enthusiasts. It will offer a place to simply “be” by the sea – with relaxed dining spaces, casual restaurants and takeaways plus retail units and green space for community ventures and events.
I have always had an attention to detail and a passion for wanting to improve on what I do. It means I’m always looking at things and questioning: how can we do this better? Back in 2007, my wife and I were lucky enough to spend a weekend at Gidleigh Park where we met Michael Caines. Although he was in a completely different business, I was struck by the similarity of his ethos: ‘This is great. How can we improve it?’ Being passionate about food myself, there was a strong connection. I have since become friends with Michael, and when he agreed to partner with us at Sideshore I knew we were about to create one of the world’s best destinations.
My other passion is to help save our planet. In line with this goal, Sideshore has been created with strong environmental credentials. We’re building a structure designed to leave a minimal impact upon the earth, and to honour the natural environment around it. We’ve focused both on sustainability in our construction methods, and we’ll continue to focus on sustainability in our future operation of the building.
Finally, and perhaps the most important facet of the project, is that this whole endeavour is not-for-profit. It’s not ours to keep either. Sideshore will be run by a purpose-built Community Interest Company. Our CIC has a full asset lock meaning no-one can profit and all proceeds are returned to the people of Exmouth. As soon as the Grenadier’s costs are reimbursed, every penny goes into the local community.
Sharing a passion for being on the water
After more than twenty years in business, I enjoy the privilege of having the means to be philanthropic. The trouble I’ve found is that charity and privacy don’t sit well together and people are often suspicious if something seems to be “too good to be true”.
Sideshore is built on my passion of being on the water and wanting to help more people enjoy it too. This project in Exmouth – so near completion now – is my opportunity to deliver.
I think it’s this spirit of genuine philanthropy which has been the hardest for us to express and it’s been a long journey trying to persuade people that this project has no hidden agenda.
Ultimately, I’m not motivated by money on a personal level – wealth doesn’t sit easily with me. It’s not something I grew up with, but as the first member of my family to get an ‘O’ level, let alone a degree and PhD, I’ve been incredibly fortunate that it’s been a by-product of my working life.
What does excite me about money is the ability to make a positive impact on the world. It’s exhilarating to have the means to make sustainable investments which aim to create a better future for all. To this end, The Dixon Foundation will enable my family to continue making impactful investment for generations to come. I hope this will give our philanthropy a framework which will reassure and inspire potential grantees.
Sideshore is our flagship project. I couldn’t be more excited to see it grow and thrive, filled with people enjoying the water as much as I do.