Memories from moving to Spain in 1964

MDCI’s Founder and CEO Mark Lawson moved to Nerja on the Costa del Sol with his family in 1964. Aged just 5 years old, he accompanied his parents to make their dream come true – living in the sun and building and running a small hotel.

How it all began

Nerja 10
Synthetic Rubber Company

“Back in 1964 my Dad, Ian Lawson, was continuing his career at the Synthetic Rubber Company based in Salford City at Greengage & Irwell and beginning to look forwards to his holidays in Spain. He left Ringway airport in Manchester on a chilly April afternoon – dark and raining, as usual – to arrive several hours later at the tiny airport built around a villa in Malaga, Spain.

He recalls his joy at hearing birds tweeting, the warm gust of air that warmed his face, and the smell of jasmine flowers and Spanish cooking! He apparently decided he wanted more of that, so on his return, set about planning his future.

He agreed to form a partnership with his best friend, and move both their families to the sun – buy a plot of land in the South of Spain and build a small hotel. They sold their houses, quit their jobs and the rest is history.

I was only 5 years old at the time, but I can just remember the fun we had travelling on the Comet aircraft from Ringway to Heathrow – and then on to Malaga. After arrival, I recall the long drive East to Nerja in very bright sunshine along a very bumpy, dusty and winding road to our new home, an apartment in the centre of Nerja, above the Pharmacy.”

Street in Nerja in the 1960's
Nerja - the Parador

Life in Nerja in 1964

This was very different from his life in the North of England and very different from how it is today. He has fond memories of the simple pleasures of life in Southern Spain back then, having an incredible childhood at school (he became the “captain of the school!”), on the beach and in the countryside, so happy and free.

“Myself, my brother and sister had so many adventures spent in a country that was a world away from the UK. At that time the streets were made of compacted earth (that became mud pools in rainy weather), metal water pipes ran along the centre of the streets and proved a real hazard to riding a bike, milk was obtained straight from the cow and fishermen caught their catch daily from the beach and roamed the streets selling the “fish of the day”.

Nerja - selling Fish

The sea was full of flying fish – great swarms could be seen “flying offshore” and when we went snorkelling, we would always find delightful seahorses and curious octopi.

As a kid, we are never peckish – we would just dive into the sugar cane fields and chew a few stalks, or pick chirimoya pears, loquats, prickly pears or almonds off the nearest trees and have our fill- for free. Life was simple and after school and during the holidays we were always on the beach, seeking out the waves to body surf as far up the beach as the wave would take us. We were almost ebony in colour – although always referred to as “Rubio” and always had scratched chests from the sand! But happy as tykes could be……”

Nerja - fisher men on the beach

The challenges of building in Spain

Alongside this new adventure and amazing place, Mark also remembers the challenges his Dad faced with buying a plot of land and building the hotel. There were so many unexpected delays and expenses caused by not having better, impartial advice – and a holistic view of the process – and having issues with his architect and technical architect.

“Dad followed the steps many people still do – being in a foreign country but wishing to push forwards with an investment idea and build in Spain. He placed himself in the hands of a lawyer, who in turn recommended the purchase of a certain plot, and also the services of an architect and builder. My father trusted their advice, without questioning whether they were any good, would take care to protect his business objectives and take responsibility of the many issues that would inevitably come up. Unfortunately, this meant that things went wrong and additional – unbudgeted – investment was required.

During the construction process, the architect approached to ask whether they wanted electricity in the hotel. Of course they did, but it transpired that the architect had not designed any in his project documentation, as he should have done.

Due to this mistake and omission, urgent remedial works were required, as well as an additional transformer – at great additional cost.

Another major issue became evident in 1967, after the hotel was built and was in use. Dark, damp patches began to affect the whole building and it turned out that the plumbing system had become corroded. After a lot of questions and investigations it was discovered that the constructor has used salty sand from the beach in the cement works. Unfortunately, the architect and technical architects had not checked the quality of the sand supplied illegally by the builder, despite it being their professional obligation to do so. This corroded the pipes and the whole system needed replacing – all because of a lack of oversight and the poor quality of the technical direction.

Of course, these extra costs – among many others, proved extremely damaging to the viability of the “dream business” and my father has sadly always rued the day he had not had better, impartial advice, from an expert.”

A formative experience

Mark Lawson and siblings in front of Nerja Hotel
Mark Lawson and Sons

Living through these challenges and seeing the impact these practices had on his Dad and his family business definitely made an impression on Mark and led to an interest in construction and a desire to help others not fall into the pitfalls that his family had through becoming a Project Developer.

His life in Spain had been so wonderful and he wanted to enable others to fulfil their dream of building in and living in Spain – without the stress his family had faced.

Growing up in Spain, with an English family and studying in both Spain and the UK, meant he was fluent in English and Spanish. Beyond just the language, it also left him with an understanding of the Spanish culture and practices, with a strong work ethic and understanding of the needs and expectations of UK, Northern European and US clients.

After working for one of the largest international construction companies in the UK he obtained an even clearer understanding of a developer’s objectives. After a highly successful career as Development Director for the Global Group and Project Director of Resort Design and Construction in Europe for Marriott Vacation Club International, he founded MDCI in 1999 to deliver excellence in Project Management Services.

He knew there was a gap in understanding and working practices, which was causing confusion and issues between international clients and Spanish companies. With MDCI he set about trying to bridge that gap, using his skills, languages, local understanding and many years of professional experience to guide clients through the process.

With 30 years’ experience in Project Management under his belt, he loves to help people to successfully complete their projects on time and on budget and make it an easier experience than his father had. He’s seen a lot of changes in project management over this time, not to mention all the changes that have taken place on the Costa del Sol since he moved here over 60 years ago. But Spain is still home for him and his family and his Dad hopes to come back to visit the hotel and see those changes for himself in 2022.


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