This last week will have been etched in the memory of many of us by the funeral of HRH Prince Philip at Windsor Castle. 

Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman

Notwithstanding the attendant pageantry, the poignant ceremony designed by HRH will have resonated with everyone who has had to experience a pared-down life event over the last year courtesy of Covid-19.

At the start of lockdown, there was concern that the enormity of dealing with the pandemic could put the climate change agenda onto the back burner. On the contrary, Covid-19 has been seen by many as a wake-up call to the perils of the climate emergency and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.

At Mishcon de Reya we are delighted to partner with Property Week in The Climate Crisis Challenge for a second year, calling on the industry to slash its carbon footprint. In my most recent podcast interview with Basil Demeroutis, Managing Partner of real estate investment company FORE Partnership, we talked about being a property company with a social purpose. An engineer by training, Demeroutis describes himself as a ‘problem solver’.

Real estate is responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions but he sees real estate as part of the solution to climate change rather than the problem. FORE have recently attained B Corp accreditation, one of only a handful of UK real estate companies so far to have committed to achieving the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability with a view to balancing profit and social purpose.

B Corps form a growing community of leaders driving a global movement to use business as a force for good. It is great to see real estate companies join this group particularly, as Demeroutis points out in our interview, it is within the four walls of real estate that much of the magic in life happens.

Listen to the podcast here: 

Green office

Source: Shutterstock/taka

Continuing the theme of social purpose, I caught up with Hannah Philp whose start up business ARC Club differentiates itself from other ‘work near home’ offerings through its deep commitment to social value in providing professional resources and shared space for the entire neighbourhood in urban residential areas. She and her co-founder Caro Lundin, achieve this by partnering with and showcasing local businesses.

They hire and source locally, as much as possible and offer reduced-rate memberships to people on a low income and discounted venue hire and free meeting rooms to community-led and grassroots organisations. This sounds very much like flex with a social purpose and it is encouraging to see female co-founders leading the way.

Notwithstanding the obstacles of lockdown, ARC Club opened its pilot site in Homerton, east London in July last year, in the vacant commercial ground floor space of a residential block. They are now actively looking for suitable new London sites outside Zone 1.

On the subject of women leading businesses, I was struck by The Times piece, highlighting that, according to a recent Korn Ferry report, not a single FTSE retailer now has a female chief executive, and there is only one chairwoman, Elaine O’Donnell, non-executive chairwoman of Games Workshop. It seems that the large listed retailers are run almost exclusively by men, despite most of the retail workforce being female and when it is well known that 80% of purchasing decisions are made by women. It must surely be time to bring more women into senior roles as retail, particularly fashion retail, is going to need to be a lot more compelling to drive sales and women know what the customer wants.

Another insightful conversation this week was with Gavin Winbanks to discuss his exciting new role as director of the newly created government Office for Investment, which aims to encourage public and private sector collaboration to attract foreign high value investment opportunities into the UK. The focus will be on key government priorities, such as reaching net zero, infrastructure investment and advancing R&D.

He has not moved far as The Office for Investment is based in his former patch, the Department for International Trade (DIT), with Minister for Investment, Lord Grimstone leading its work in collaboration with 10 Downing Street. Winbanks is delighted with an early success, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company’s investment of £800million, alongside £200million from the UK, in a boost for the next generation of British life science companies. This deal is expected to deepen existing UK-UAE trade and investment ties that were worth £32billion in 2019.

Whilst wishing him well with the new venture, my rather selfish regret is that I may see less of Winbanks at real estate events, as in previous years he energetically led the DIT team presence and programme at MIPIM and other real estate events and for a number of years collaborated with us on our annual pre MIPIM party, which was the kick-off event for the MIPIM conference season.

Whatever the shortcomings of zoom compared to face to face real life meetings, the digital approach certainly offers international reach without the time and expense of international travel. With that in mind I am very much looking forward to chairing the Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce panel this week looking at the short and longer term outlook for the commercial and residential UK property market. With a panel of top UK property experts, namely John Forrester, President of Cushman & Wakefield, Robert Evans, Joint Managing Partner of Argent and Lucian Cook, Head of Residential Research at Savills we are in for a lively and insightful discussion for our Australian audience.

I would like to end on a high, so to speak, with New London Architecture’s annual Tall Buildings Survey 2021. According to the survey results, 45% of all buildings (261 buildings) in the 2020 tall buildings pipeline are in east London! This compares with only 20% in the central London zone which seems to back up London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s comment at last week’s London Chamber of Commerce and Industry event ‘Audience with the Mayor’ when he referred to London’s centre of gravity continuing to move east. Perhaps it’s high time for west London to pull back!

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya