There’s never a dull moment in the property sector, but the past year has had plenty of twists and turns with Brexit, a general election and Covid-19. Last July, I had the honour of being appointed as president of the British Property Federation (BPF) and as I reach the end of my term, the landscape is very different.

Helen Gordon

Helen Gordon

At the start of my presidency, we launched the BPF perception audit, which outlined work to be done to change perceptions of the industry. It was clear from the results that few people outside property understand the sector and much more could be done to promote the good work we do and positive social contribution new development brings.

The survey’s findings tied in perfectly with the Redefining Real Estate strategy, which I and former president Rob Noel had agreed to tackle as a multi-year project. Incoming president David Partridge and junior vice-president Guy Grainger also agreed with us to adopt the theme.

Redefining Real Estate focuses on property’s social, environmental and economic contributions to promote change and educate people on the good we do. We also recognise the importance of humanising our story to reach a wider, more diverse audience, demonstrating far-reaching opportunities across the sector.

Let’s lose the old-fashioned stereotypes and build a legacy on the good we bring

We are trying to promote the fact that real estate touches every element of our lives, from providing homes, to shopping centres and offices, as well as land, infrastructure and warehouses.

We’ve made good strides in our endeavours but with the impact of Covid-19, we must now look again. We must be attuned to the concerns of the public and politicians. We need to listen and act to show our support and deliver what’s needed, from the basic requirements of providing safe and hygienic buildings to protect those around us – be it residents or customers, employees or partners – to providing sustainable jobs for local people and supporting local communities in their recovery.

Time for action

Our campaign has reached a point of reflection, and to ensure its longevity, we must shift gears and focus on the doing. Actions speak louder than words, and businesses and industries will long be remembered for the actions taken at this difficult time.

The industry has on the whole responded brilliantly, supporting employees, key workers, communities and occupiers. Contrary to the negative media headlines, the industry has done a lot of good.

Coronavirus has exacerbated discourse in the sector, but has also provided an opportunity for the BPF to lead on government engagement and enable it to understand the contribution the industry makes.

There are many examples of how the industry can work with occupiers for the collective good of the high street, jobs, workers, communities and retail. The recently announced Covid-19 code of practice should support this.

Our industry has been demonised for some time, from greedy landlords to fat-cat developers. Let’s lose the old-fashioned stereotypes and build a legacy on the good that we bring. As an industry, we’re just as vulnerable as others now, but if we stand shoulder to shoulder with all those affected, we have a huge part to play in supporting and delivering the UK recovery.

Helen Gordon is chief executive of Grainger and president of the British Property Federation