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As we approach UKREiiF – the UK’s leading real estate, infrastructure and investment conference – I’m in a positive, yet reflective mood, as I look at how we’re starting to create thriving places that truly matter to communities.

I look to the future with confidence, as regeneration becomes increasingly focused on the community element of placemaking, which was far too often over-looked, in favour of taking a formulaic ‘tick-box’ approach to engagement to satisfy the planning process.

An old friend of mine says that it’s not about creating buildings in the hope that – to use the Field of Dreams / Wayne’s World adage – “If we build it, they will come.”, it’s about understanding a place’s essence… and he’s absolutely right, too. The key to this is proper engagement and two-way communication, to listen to what’s important to them and what their area means to them. This needs to happen as early as possible in the process, well before any red lines are drawn on a map.

Taking this kind of inclusive approach brings all areas of a community together with a common goal and this is vital to unlock the full potential of a given place. Buildings are more than just bricks and mortar, they’re a backdrop to life. They’re places to raise a family; places to work; places to relax and spend time in, so providing everyone a real opportunity to be involved in shaping their respective communities is the right thing to do. This will also positively impact the wider industry by creating places and spaces that will be used for the long-term and mitigate against buildings becoming obsolete way before their time.

At Social, we have a wealth of experience in this area. We foster positive relationships and simplify the process for community voices to be heard; we craft consultations with our clients that not only resonate but also achieve real impact. Also, our approach makes sure every stakeholder feels valued and contributes to a collective future, making every consultation a stepping stone towards communal success.

At the start of the journey, together, we must embed ourselves fully in a community and get under the skin of an area’s unique heritage, culture, and most importantly, understand its strengths, rather than solely its weaknesses, to truly understand how best to benefit the people that we ultimately serve.

From there, we can create the solutions that really make a positive difference to an individual village, town, or city and most importantly, its people. Whether that be the right mix of homes, relevant retail to satisfy a more experiential palette, bringing the right infrastructure forward with active travel woven in, or creating green, public spaces, which everyone can enjoy and that knit the urban fabric together, we’ll know as we’ve listened, we’ve understood and we’ve actioned where we can.

We have the opportunity to enhance pride within towns and cities; complement heritage and bring back that strong sense of community. If we achieve this through the delivery of great places in partnership, then we won’t go far wrong.

By Ryan Devlin, Account Director and engagement lead.