Improving society: four trailblazers

The timing of the announcement of this year’s winners of EPRA’s Outstanding Contribution to Society (OCS) Award at the annual EPRA conference in Berlin in September could not have been better for Civitas Social Housing PLC. The UK-based REIT issued a press release during the conference revealing that it would be added to the FTSE EPRA Nareit Global Real Estate Index Series from September 24, 2018. In the same press release, the company proudly announced it had emerged as the winner of EPRA’s Outstanding Contribution to Society Award in the Social Infrastructure category.

Judi Seebus

Editor-in-chief PropertyEU. Founded PropertyEU in 2006 and has worked as Editor in Chief since then. She previously worked for Dutch financial daily FD, and now writes and moderates on a vast range of topics covering all disciplines and segments in the real estate industry. Judi is also the founding editor of RetailWatch and Firestarters, a new magazine on proptech.

Two major milestones within two days for Civitas Social Housing PLC, the first real estate investment trust dedicated to investing exclusively into existing portfolios of built social homes in England and Wales. With its dedicated focus on the problem of the acute housing shortage, particularly housing for families and vulnerable adults, Civitas stood out amongst the other contenders as a catalyst for the development of a new asset class, with more than GBP 1 billion having been raised to date from public market investors in the UK. As market leader, Civitas accounts for GBP 650 million of this figure, which has provided support for people suffering from mental health issues and autism, as well as those at risk of homelessness or residing in long-stay hospitals.
Civitas is one of four inspiring winners this year in four different categories. Paris-listed shopping centre REIT Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield was the only Continental European winner in this year’s edition of the awards. It won the award in the Community & Tenants Engagement category for its ‘UR for Jobs’ programme, which aims to bridge the gap between local young people cut off from the job market and job opportunities offered by tenants in the group shopping centres in Continental Europe. In partnership with NGOs and public agencies, these local disadvantaged young people are trained and coached by Unibail- Rodamco-Westfield employees and introduced to tenants during job fairs. Through UR for Jobs, Unibail-Rodamco- Westfield supports the development of the communities in which it operates, while offering a key new service for its retailers.
EPRA OCS 2018 Award Winners
UK REIT intu was chosen as the winner of the Wellbeing category for its Merry Hill Green Gym, created in partnership with UK charity The Conservation Volunteers. The Merry Hill Green Gym is the 10th Green Gym the company has created as part of a programme to set up communities near its UK shopping centres. The company’s key goals are: provision of an accessible health and wellbeing programme; an increase in the overall biodiversity of nature reserves near its centres; promotion of the benefits to local people, especially disadvantaged groups – the elderly, young, unemployed and people with disabilities – and engagement of its employees in the creation and delivery of the Green Gym site.
The fourth, and final, winner in the mixed-bag category ‘Other’ was Shaftesbury PLC for its participation in Wild West End London. With London’s population on course to top ten million by 2030, Shaftesbury believes it is essential to recognise the importance that green spaces play in the wider city environment, especially in regard to meeting the housing and infrastructure needs of future generations. With its partners, Shaftesbury has helped develop a matrix of green space values for Wild West End, which provides guidance on how to deliver multiple functionalities for each type of urban green space from planters to garden squares. The provision of a multi- functional network of green spaces helps to create an environment that encourages walking and cycling, promoting healthy lifestyles as well as capturing the benefits that plants provide through filtering pollutants.
The four winners of the second edition of EPRA’s OCS Awards were chosen from a total of 18 contenders from around Europe. As with the first edition, the submissions were scored (from one to ten) on three criteria:

  1. Extent/scale of impact

  2. Innovation/Uniqueness

  3. Corporate endeavour (i.e. How far did the applicant have to go to make the project happen)

A novelty this year was that the projects were divided into four categories: Social infrastructure; Community & Tenants Engagement; Wellbeing and ‘Other’. This certainly helped the jury to create a better basis for comparison, with the notable exception of ‘Other’. None of the BREEAM and Well submissions made it into the final round as the jury felt that, on the whole, this certification is becoming standard practice now for many real estate investors and managers, even if it is relatively unique for a specific country.
Finally, on behalf of the jury, I would like to commend EPRA for launching this initiative, which we hope will inspire other companies to create outstanding projects of their own. We look forward to reviewing the contenders for the third edition of these awards in 2019!
Judi Seebus – PropertyEU Editor (Jury Chair)
Lisette van Doorn – ULI Europe CEO
Saira Choudhry – PwC UK Real Estate Director
Jon Lovell – Hillbreak Co-Founder & Director
Matthew Ulterino – UNEP FI Property Working Group Member