By Claire Callow, Head of Community Engagement

Over the past few years, the development industry has been looking to improve how they engage with communities and how that engagement should not only be about the building project itself,  but also what developers can do additionally for the community. Social value is a hot topic in the industry now and so it should be.

I started my development career in a local authority where understanding communities was of the utmost importance. At that time the attitudes of some developers often frustrated me, and I found it difficult to find their stance and my own values marrying up.  Striving to understand communities has been a paramount concern for me throughout my career, you cannot deliver good engagement in a community if you don’t understand it. As someone who has been working in this industry for over 12 years,  I have noticed how far developers have come on this journey. Most now pay real attention to understanding the communities that they are working in and strive to create developments which benefit them.

In very recent years I have noticed that more and more tenders for projects are asking to demonstrate social value – what else we can do for the community we will be working in? Often the tender asks for several things including:

  • Opportunities to provide training and work experience
  • Working closely with underrepresented groups and ensuring they are involved.

These asks are often guided by what is needed at council level and are now increasingly becoming part of the engagement process – what added value does the community want from this project? Is there something that they want to try or learn that we can assist with? These questions can be fundamental to building our understanding of the community and the social value that good development might bring.

While I appreciate that councils and developers have targets for their social value and there are many ways to calculate this including HACT and the social value portal, I believe that social value metrics should also include more organic measures about those that are seldom heard from in engagement. These groups are important to try to target on questions relating to social value in projects and some of our articles have covered how we do this.  We should be investing time to understand the community whether it is through feedback methodology or simply starting conversations with local people at site visits.  (I know that this might seem a scary thought but the northerner in me says do it! You can get some great insights from these conversations).

Some of our recent work has included collaborating closely with schools in Westminster to create a plan to work with them throughout any development, this included the commitment to working with their relevant departments to educate them on the key aspects of the new build and providing access to sports facilities in the building once completed. We are also working with other clients to develop a comprehensive social value offer which includes everything from mentoring, to offering cooking classes on electric hobs.

Social value is becoming an essential part of any development and is fundamental to good placemaking .   At Kanda we continue to explore ways to support developers in creating social value that is meaningful.   Creating social value is a very important way to ensure that a development is not seen as being “done to” a community, but becomes part of the community.  

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