Working together to regenerate with purpose


Last week, U + I hosted Property Week’s Regenerate conference, bringing together the best minds in the sector to discuss what it takes to plan, fund, develop and run multi-faceted regeneration projects that bring about economic, commercial, social and cultural renewal.

Speakers included Richard Blakeway, Former Deputy Mayor for Housing, Land and Property, James Murray, Deputy Mayor, Housing and Residential Development and prominent figures from Network Rail Property to British Land.

Our Deputy Chief Executive, Richard Upton, inspired the conference with some thought provoking comments on a topic very dear to us here at U+I: how to create vibrant and rich communities while still delivering value for investors. Here, he explains why it’s so important and why the industry needs to change.

“Regenerate” should be a big word. A big, powerful, important thing. The dictionary definition:

“To undergo or cause to undergo moral, spiritual or physical renewal or invigoration"

Just think about how important that full definition is. I suspect many of us think of regeneration as purely physical – but it is also moral and spiritual.

Such regeneration can and does happen. We as a society are currently in the midst of one of the biggest regeneration moments in living memory. The “Me Too” movement is sweeping across the world, headed by strong and brave women and men challenging views and actions that have been wrong for too long across all industries as diverse as Hollywood to sport, and closer to home with many in the property industry attending the President’s Club.

So in just five months since the start of this movement, how did such a profound social change – such a regeneration – happen so quickly?

Of course, social media played its part. But I suspect it was because everyone knew it was wrong for a long time, but no-one did anything about it. When they did, the guilty secret was there for all to see. There was no defence.

So in thinking about regeneration in the property business, I would throw out this challenge. What is our guilty secret? What have we been doing for so long that we know is fundamentally not right?

Because only by identifying that can we undergo or cause to undergo moral, spiritual or physical renewal or invigoration.

In finding an answer we should think more broadly about what should drive business, not just in our sector. Here I also sense the potential for a fundamental change.

We know that as developers, we all have a wider responsibility to the communities we work with and often enough we let them down. We also know that all too often we ignore heritage, put tall buildings in the wrong place and accept mediocre architecture, particularly when it comes to housing. 

Now is the time to step up to the mark. Our time is up, and as an industry we must be driven by values and face up to our responsibilities to society and our fellow citizens. Delivering projects that are purpose driven so that the community is able to thrive during the process and long afterwards.

We need to drive socio-economic value, not just our own bottom line. Although what many developers fail to grasp is that the latter will flow from the former.

Listening to all the amazing speakers at PW Regenerate – one thing was clear to me – we all agreed that to succeed we must earn the trust of the community. This is something that Killian Hurley, CEO at Mount Anvil, Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Executive at GLA and Anna Sabine-Newlyn CEO at Meeting Place Communications all spoke passionately about.

Over the course of the day it was apparent that to regain the trust of the public we must make the effort to talk and listen to people who live in the area from the very beginning of a project. To succeed, we need to understand the local ecosystem and what makes it thrive.

We should be more creative in our outreach and take advantage of social media to collaborate with the community, so they can co-develop the projects and feel a sense of ownership and belonging.

But it is not just about collaboration; it is also about how you collaborate – ways of working that help deliver that real lasting social and economic value.

Projects that don’t just focus on physical regeneration but also look holistically at the needs of the community to create theatres, dance centres or libraries, with the purpose of introducing moral and spiritual invigoration.

Key to this is what many call meanwhile use; we call it Worthwhile Use, because we believe that – when done with intelligence and imagination – it can deliver real worth. Drawing on our experiences at Deptford Market Yard, it would not be the success it is today if we had not built a relationship with the local community and local council. By gaining their trust we were able to create an environment that embodies the values of the community. 

I think these are just some of the ways in which we can regenerate our industry and, by so doing, regenerate our country. If we face up to it – all of us involved in this business, politician and developer alike – if we step up to the mark, we can change things for the better and do it quickly.