It was a meeting of minds when LandAid chief executive Paul Morrish and Newcore Capital managing director Hugo Llewelyn were introduced a couple of years ago.

LandAid house (received pro bono support)

Social infrastructure investor Newcore Capital was trying to get propcos and fund managers to donate their professional expertise, but could not get enough people on board with the idea. LandAid had been providing pro bono advice for seven years before Property Week’s Pro Bono Challenge, launched in 2019, but not at the scale it was hoping.

Llewelyn admits the Pro Bono Challenge was a “resounding” failure because it was formulated under the wrong banner.

“When we wrote to 100 REIT chief executives and big fund managers, everybody probably thought, ‘Who the hell are Newcore and why should we tell you what charitable work we are doing?’” he says, laughing.

Now the two organisations have joined forces to launch LandAid’s Pro Bono Programme, which Property Week is delighted to support as media partner.

The aim is to facilitate £1m of pro bono work every year by 2023 and the initiative is a part of LandAid’s First Step campaign, a three-year strategy designed to provide 1,000 beds for homeless young people.

Property Week caught up with Morrish and Llewelyn to find out why now is the right time to launch such a venture.

“This initiative is a very good way for us to help the industry get its ‘S’ in ESG [environmental, social and governance] together,” says Llewelyn.

Newcore’s ethos as a B Corporation, certified by the non-profit B Lab’s certification scheme, is that it should commit not just to shareholders but to its staff and the communities it works in.

Its goal is to regenerate social infrastructure in prosperous areas for profit and reinvest in poor areas not for profit and it is called Newcore because it views the alternative real estate sector, such as healthcare and life sciences, as the new core in real estate.

“They were always core to society but just new to the institutional mainstream,” Llewelyn says.

Broad remit

LandAid’s purpose as a charity is to end youth homelessness but Morrish says its remit has broadened. “We’ve steadily shifted our focus to be at the heart of conversations about how the industry does social good and achieve social impact above and beyond its commercial purpose,” he says.

The Pro Bono Programme soft launched last year. One early project was with homeless charity Centrepoint, which needed a stock conditions survey on its 120 freehold properties.

“It’s not sexy, but this is a serious piece of work,” says Llewelyn.

LandAid’s pro bono panel called on building consultancy Paragon and Knight Frank to do the work and software company Accruent provided its package for occupational surveys.

This initiative is a very good way for us to help the industry get its ’S’ in ESG

Hugo Llewelyn, Newcore

“There is a direct relationship between what feels like the mundane task of a stock condition survey and the quality of service provided by Centrepoint,” says Morrish.

“It works with thousands of young people and the accommodation it provides gives a template for people to change their lives.”

The soft trial project amounted to around £200,000 worth of work. That was just with 50 participants and a small body of homeless charities.

Now the firm wants to expand its network of property firms and charities following the official launch of the programme on 29 April. As Property Week went to press, 60 organisations had signed up to provide pro bono work. It is not just free property advice that is required. It could be legal, marketing, HR, communications advice.

Morrish hopes the programme will improve the pro bono experience for charities.

“It’s far easier just to get the cash,” he says. “Pro bono is more complicated. But having top drawer professionals come in and help them think through problems is game changing for charities. It can also save a load of money. We need to get the word out to address their concerns.”

Both Llewelyn and Morrish agree that the industry needs to change “massively” and now is the time for corporates to prove they are committed to the communities they work in.

“I don’t personally want the heroes of the industry to be the alpha male, yacht-owning tossers,” Llewelyn says.

“So much of the industry are decent, skilled professionals who are up for helping but all the publicity is about those people.

“We have to change the conversation and one way is coming up with initiatives that make it easy for corporates to change their behaviour.”

One potential issue for companies – and the Pro Bono Programme – is the ongoing economic impact of Covid-19. The distress in some sectors of real estate has raised concerns about whether or not companies will still be willing to carry out not-for-profit work.

“When people are distressed, they think ‘I’ve got to look after my job’, says Llewelyn. “There is a risk of some people not being able to help because their businesses are struggling. However, all the businesses involved in the not-for-profit have done well through Covid.”

Morrish adds: “Everybody has had a very visceral personal experience of Covid. If there was ever a point at which the industry could refresh its ethos, it’s now.”

The pandemic has reminded everyone of the important things in life. It is time for the real estate sector to show its commitment and put its skills to good use.

Key objectives for the Pro Bono Programme

>> To provide £1m of pro bono work a year by 2023

>> To sign up more real estate businesses offering their expertise

>> To sign up more charities who require help

>> To use the Pro Bono panel to facilitate larger projects that need more pro bono work

>> To digitise the transactions to make signing up for pro bono work easier