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Our First Client

by Wesley Ankrah

When SeerBridge launched in April 2018 we were always focussed on being a client led, but community engagement driven business. The fundamental ethos of the business has always been to deliver the desired outcomes for our client encompassing their social value and community benefit needs. However, what we’ve always felt made the idea of SeerBridge as a business so different, was that we would do this from the perspective of communities.

So, when we were instructed by Eutopia Homes to be part of their pre-application process on a scheme in Birmingham, it presented the first challenge we would face as a business, how could we communicate the needs of the community and the social value that the scheme can deliver in the context of a planning application?

There are different types of social value consultancies in the market, some that focus on social value measurement and some that focus on community engagement projects typically involved in placemaking. SeerBridge wasn’t created to join an existing market, it was created to change the market, where social value has so far struggled to define a clear role within the real estate and the built environment sector. This is how we communicated our message.

The client’s brief was very simple in essence – demonstrate how the proposed scheme would benefit the community. The client had local policy issues to consider with regards to employment and this is where we saw our maximum value. A standard socio-economic report can inform the planning officer and committee how much a development scheme is worth to the area, but what it cannot do is specify the ‘hidden’ social value opportunities that a scheme can provide.

The development site in Birmingham wasn’t familiar territory to the client or to us, but through intensive desk research, followed by site visits, we quickly found that the scheme could create additional opportunities for local people through applying a social value approach to the development process. We discovered that many local organisations were surprised that a developer had instructed a community benefit consultancy and were keen to explore working in partnership in the future.

We also found that at the heart of the community was a real drive for social enterprise and social inclusion, which aligned perfectly with the aspirations of the client and our own values. Social enterprises have the ability to add significant value to development projects through either procurement during the design and build phase or through delivering services at end use operation of a completed scheme.

Translating this into a planning context was by no means easy, but eventually we were able to create two reports for the client, one outlining potential commercial use and employment opportunities for the scheme, and the second mapping out the potential social value and community benefits that could be created. The second report identified and projected social value for the scheme, which is something that we came to realise was an excellent tool for explaining to local residents and the community how this scheme could work for them.

The most refreshing part of this first foray into community engagement as SeerBridge was the positivity with which we were welcomed by the people we engaged with. The Social Value Act 2012 is the basis from which SeerBridge exists, but its existence and potential still isn’t universally understood. Being able to educate some of the local stakeholders on what the act means and can do for communities is an integral part of our work. People genuinely appreciate discovering that the act exists and immediately start to think about how it can best improve their communities.

That is what makes SeerBridge what it is. We look at social value as something that belongs to the community and therefore we always implement a community led approach of engagement. We cannot add value to every community group objective, but what we do at the very least is share our understanding and expertise, which will have a knock on effect in their future work.

Working with Eutopia Homes allowed us to quickly find an identity in the market place as it set us on a path to produce reports that were submitted with the planning application. It’s early days though and we will definitely change, evolve and shape our identity over the coming years, but the fact we won’t restrict ourselves in our incubation phase means that we can learn how to add services to our business, whilst staying true to our principle social value and community engagement ideals.

I think anyone starting off a new business always remembers their first client and SeerBridge will always be thankful to Eutopia Homes for the opportunity and the trust shown in our business. We are excited to be working with them on future projects and our pipeline of work is growing quickly with new clients, which means we must be doing something right.

-Wesley Ankrah, Managing Director

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