The property industry has sophisticated measures to build social impact into new projects.

Nicola Stacey cut out

Nicola Stacey

These include better housing, improved access to education, inclusive staff cultures, volunteering opportunities and support for social enterprise. It is now well understood that environmental, social and governance (ESG) agendas enhance lives as well as give better returns.

But grassroots opportunities are often overlooked. Flourishing communities need to have local pride. Monuments, landmarks and public art so vital in defining an area and bringing character to our streetscape may be in front of us, but are neglected and deteriorating.

Austerity has stripped away local authorities’ conservation budgets. Spending on parks and green spaces is £330m less per year than 10 years ago. As the cost-of-living crisis bites this winter, local authorities’ resources will stretch even thinner.

The property industry should see this as an opportunity to step in. Working with charitable bodies to restore historic places helps create flourishing and resilient communities, offering hope and pride to the people that will suffer most. The sector can also create more targeted social impact by involving communities in these heritage projects.

Boston manor house Hounslow shutterstock_788840344 William Barton

Boston manor house, Hounslow 

Source: shutterstock / William Barton

Progressive property companies have long prided themselves on their investment in community heritage. The Canary Wharf Group has supported charity Heritage of London Trust’s work in the City for more than a decade. Knight Frank supports many of our projects, including the restoration of Boston Manor House in Hounslow (pictured), which will be one of west London’s top cultural destinations when it reopens. A heritage project last month delivered in partnership with L&Q included visits and workshops for more than 100 young people from Newham.

These projects make business sense as catalysts for further investment, creating economic benefits for landlords and developers. Local authorities are encouraged to invest in areas around these sites, improving the public realm. The investment is sustainable, as young people are taught how to champion these places.

The property industry has long understood the value of arts, culture and heritage in supporting growth. But investment has often focused on bigger institutions. With councils at full stretch, there is a chance for the sector to go for long-lasting social impact at community level.

It is a brilliant chance to shine.

Pioneering youth engagement programme Proud Places, set up by Heritage of London Trust two years ago during the pandemic, has two aims: retain and restore heritage landmarks and use them to support young people from the most challenging backgrounds. Site visits and a chance to meet conservators at work bring young people centre stage. Creative workshops support confidence, curiosity, new skills and career opportunities. It is the children, not the adults, who cut the ribbon at the end of a project. The programme has flourished, with more than 3,000 young people involved over 24 months.

Dr Nicola Stacey is director of Heritage of London Trust