Principal Thoughts: Putting people and communities first

Posted on: 2019-11-12

Welcome to the latest edition of Ashley Wheaton’s ‘Principal Thoughts’. This month, Ashley finds hope from recent events that the Built Environment sector has turned a corner in its approach and is capable of adopting a more people-first approach.

During the last two months, it has been heartening being involved in research reports, attending our centenary events and leading on some initiatives over the past few months with a common theme evident throughout: putting people and communities first.

The Value of Community report

The most explicit link to this theme came in the form of The Value of Community report we published with The Prince’s Foundation at a special event at Blenheim Palace in September.

The report provides evidence which demonstrates the importance and value of creating housing which encourages communities and local businesses to thrive as opposed to housing without an obvious identity and isolated from appropriate transport links, lifestyle hubs and shops.

Evidence within the report proved that adopting a community focus and sustainable approach brings about long-term economic benefits to housebuilders. With this in mind, it seems that there really is no excuse for failing to incorporate lifestyle benefits in housing developments and hopefully this can be considered at a time when the UK is committed to building hundreds of thousands of new homes each year.

Housing for Good

Sticking with housing, we engaged with the public in Reading at our centenary Housing for Good event which brought together a wide range of speakers, each with a strong opinion on how we can bring about sustainable housing solutions.

The speakers at our centenary Housing for Good event Taking questions at our centenary Housing for Good event

Whilst the focus of each speech was distinctive, all the presentations considered the impact housing has on society and where improvements can be made to benefit communities, whether it was Reading East MP, Matt Rodda, calling on the government to provide more social and affordable housing; Bioregional Chief Executive and Co-Founder, Sue Ridlestone OBE, advocating the creation of eco-communities; Haslams Estate Agents Managing Director, Steve Woodford, calling for greater consistency between the rise in housing costs and wages; or Barton Willmore Partner, Kim Cohen, urging better communication between the public and housebuilders.

We also opened the floor to the audience, drawn from the local public, to field their questions which allowed for further interrogation on the topic and some forthright views on how we, as representatives of various organisations, could work together to make a difference.

The event was in support of our charity partner, Launchpad’s project to refurbish a bedsit in Reading for its clients. Donations were taken on the night for this project and are still being accepted on its JustGiving page with the £6,000 needed almost raised.

The event demonstrated the collective desire from politicians and industry representatives to increase access to housing and make housing which is fulfilling and sustainable for residents.

Rural housing report

Just two weeks ago, we released a second research report in as many months, this time, looking at the impact of access to housing for retiring farmers, and the subsequent impact on the industry. The report was produced with The Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV), The Prince’s Countryside Fund, Royal Agricultural University and Northumbrian Water Group, with support from a steering group including Addington Fund, and identified and examined the measures needed to enable those who wish to retire from the agricultural industry to do so without fear or hardship.

While not an issue which affects large swathes of the population, it revealed the difficulties faced by retiring farmers in securing suitable rural housing and should help create support for those struggling in this situation.

Projects for Good

At our student and alumni centenary event, we explored the theme of Projects for Good and heard from a few inspiring alumni about projects they have worked on which have made a positive difference. Dame Alison Nimmo DBE spoke about her work in regenerating Manchester after the city was bombed by the IRA and creating a legacy in London as Regeneration Director for the 2012 Olympics – both roles making a positive difference to the people in those cities.

The speakers at our centenary Projects for Good event

Another alumni speaker, Lucy Winzer, regaled the guests about Aldi’s acquisition of an important community building in Coulsdon. In her work as Aldi Property Director, Lucy consulted with the local community and, in response to concerns about the site losing its distinguished reputation in the town, organised a blue plaque to go up on the building to mark its historical significance. This small gesture won the supermarket plenty of goodwill in the area.

Our other alumni speaker, Michael Moir, spoke about the many challenges he faced in renovating Tai Kwun – a centre for heritage and arts offering culture and leisure experiences for the public in Hong Kong – and how satisfying it was completing the work for the benefit of the local community.

In addition to the speeches, we invited our students and alumni to look at our 13 Projects for Good exhibits. These were the 13 shortlisted projects from our student and alumni community on how they could make their workplaces more sustainable.

People and community focus elsewhere

It was an honour to preside over the 32nd UCEM Property Awards. The Academic Excellence Award category featured nominations for projects on the value of millennials in the workplace, the diversity of construction crews, adequate accommodation for Armed Services personnel and their families and rejuvenating declining high streets. Emma Martinez won the award for her project on the impact of the loss or change of London’s historic football stadia on the city’s economic, social and cultural landscape. Her work compared and contrasted West Ham United’s and Fulham’s approaches to their stadia with insight on the former highlighting how businesses around West Ham’s former ground had suffered since the club’s move to Stratford.

UCEM Principal, Ashley Wheaton, and UCEM Chairman, John Gellatly, with the winners of the 2019 UCEM Property Awards

The Alumni of the Year category featured five role models who are mentoring the next generation coming through for the good of the sector while Property Award winner, Sir James Wates, in his acceptance speech discussed how the Wates Group is creating social value in everything it does.

At the same event, we announced the inaugural two winners of the Harold Samuel Research Prize with one of the projects researching inclusive environments within the real estate industry in the context of disability. The second project aims to boost the real estate community by pinning down universal real estate standards.

UCEM’s focus on people and communities

As an institution, we are working hard to create positive communities within the Built Environment. We have begun the process of renewing our NUS Responsible Futures accreditation with the help of some of our students. This will benchmark and inform our activity on sustainability, ensuring we are doing all we can to be sustainable and educate our staff and students on how we can better look after the planet.

We recently had our Access and Participation Plan approved by the Office for Students (OfS). This plan will drive our work in widening participation and ensuring we do all we can to provide study opportunities for lesser represented groups than those studying with us currently.

We are providing pathways for those leaving the Armed Services by carrying out research and delivering CPD training for Veterans about the construction industry.

All this activity is geared towards making UCEM as inclusive as it can possibly be. Happily, our recent cross-organisational collaborations and events with representatives from the sector has demonstrated a people-first focus and, should this accurately reflect the Built Environment as a whole, we can look forward to creating happier communities with less corner-cutting which has damaged people’s lives in the past.

At UCEM, we are committed to contributing to a better Built Environment sector through excellence in online education. We deliver approved apprenticeship programmes, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. For more information take a look at our Study With UCEM page.

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