PLACED team members Jo and Sam attended our first UKREiiF recently (it’s only the second one ever so we’re not that late to the party).
It’s not our usual type of event. Typically, we’re hosting workshops and events and they tend to include a lot more post-it notes and craft materials, speaking to communities and working with young people. So this was a change from normal proceedings for us. But a welcome change.
Hosted in Leeds, the UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF) is a busy 3-day conference with multiple pavilions, conference rooms and exhibition spaces bringing together professionals from across the built environment. The programme was jam packed with talks and events.
As a social enterprise focused on community engagement and youth voice, we were drawn to talks covering topics like social value, empowering the people, youth voice, regeneration delivering for communities… that sort of thing. Some really interesting talks and views shared. We also enjoyed and found great value in connecting with existing partners, potentially new collaborators and others working in the community engagement field.
We were particularly interested in the social value conversations going on. It’s reassuring that social value felt like a key topic. As an organisation often contributing to the social value of a project through our work with communities and young people, and specifically our PLACED Academy programme, it’s interesting to see how others understand social value. We’ve tried to measure social value as well and so we know a little bit about the complexity of that. We’re pleased to see so many organisations recognising the need for projects to deliver social value during design, planning and construction phases and in the longer term for communities.
Something we observed was how community engagement, meanwhile use and social value were often conflated. They certainly relate and one ‘thing’ can be all these things. For example, our engagement supports community empowerment, helps to make people feel part of their local area, develops skills, and adds diversity to the decision-making process. But it seems that more thought and clarity is needed if we’re to really have a positive and lasting impact with and for communities where we work.
Community engagement should support better design, local ownership and have inherent social value. But engagement can also be undertaken to inform and improve the long-term social value of a project by better understanding local wants and needs. We’ve worked with Social Value Portal on projects in St Helens and Salford to do just that – ensuring local people get to inform what social value outcomes look like, rather than assuming we know what people need.
Meanwhile uses can provide things communities want and need during development like local jobs and community spaces, but do these uses survive the development process or are they replaced by higher yielding uses?
And how do projects scale social value investments to address the bigger picture stuff like doctors’ surgeries and schools – the things communities often tell us are the things they want to see improved through processes of development and ‘regeneration’ – especially when capital investment is taking place against a backdrop of deep, long term cuts to services at a local level? It’s a complicated process, no doubt, and great to see so many participating in the conversation.
In an attempt to condense our experience into some takeaways, here’s three final thoughts…
- It’s great to be travelling to Leeds for this event. As an organisation proudly place based here in the North West, we think having this event in the North is really valuable. More of this please!
- The third sector is working in the built environment, but we’re not always able to join these conversations. We thought a lot about attending beforehand because for us, as a social enterprise, we’re very conscious of how we spend money on networking and events. We’re pleased we went, it was great, we made lots of connections and there were some great talks. But we’re definitely thinking about how more organisations like ours – and indeed ourselves – might attend in the future.
- There’s space for a bit more fun, interaction, discussion and debate. As we said in the opening of this blog, our events tend to lean more on interaction, problem solving, making and modelling as ways to explore design than on PowerPoints and presentations (nothing wrong with a good PowerPoint). We’ve also been known to flip the panel discussion on its head a little to really enable audience participation and diverse voices. So, we’d love to see a few more creative, fun, and interactive elements at the next UKREiiF. Perhaps we’ll be invited to help make that happen…
To find out about UKREiif and to find latest news, see the website here.