Research report

Social Value: How to be a good ancestor

A mural on the side of the house showing a group of community members with the words Custom House and Our House. Two couples walk towards the mural
Custom House is Our House by Jessie Brennan. Curated by UP Projects for the Royal Docks GLA Team. Image: Thierry Bal

What does “be a good ancestor” mean for creating long-term social value in the built environment? In our report, we set out the principles for creating a social value legacy in urban development.

Future of London’s members and partners wanted to explore how to unlock meaningful social value in housing and regeneration. Social value legacy and being a “good ancestor” were first suggested to us at our social value conference in July 2024.

We adopted the theme for our action research project, which engaged 500 people through the conference, field trips and workshops.

As part of the research, we heard from major developers such as Lendlease, which is working on the Royal Docks regeneration at Silvertown. We also met representatives from several communities with direct experience of the impact of regeneration projects on their area.

Our project started ten years after the Social Value Act came into force. In that time social value has become a focus for the built environment sector.

Download Social Value: How to be a good ancestor here
Read a news story on long-term evaluation and “developer endowments” here

Ensure communities can define social value for themselves

Social value can be defined as the benefit to the economy, communities and the environment from commercial investment. Through our research we identified two important conditions for creating social value :

  • Put communities impacted by change at the centre of social value creation and ground interventions in community need.
  • Social value is about processes and not just outcomes, including enabling local knowledge to influence development decisions.

Taking a long-term view can lift the bar on current social value initiatives. Thinking about legacy will help practitioners raise their ambitions to deliver social value that has lasting impact and speaks to our inheritance from the past.

“All of us working in the built environment have something many others don’t. What we do today, if done well, will stand the test of time.

Andrew van Doorn, Chief Executive,  HACT

At its heart, the report concludes that social value is about people-centred places. An impactful initiative will build on a place’s existing community assets and empower local stakeholders to become stewards of place.

Creating a social value legacy is about culture shifts such as establishing accountability, diverse authorship of place and collective stewardship. It’s also about thinking beyond a project’s life cycle and exploring how your work might be built on in the future.

Five different coloured shapes with the five principles for creating a social value legacy
The five principle of creating a social value legacy. See below to download report resources

Principles and practice for creating a social value legacy

We identified five social value legacy principles that capture how the built environment sector can create social value for the long term:

  • Adopt a legacy mindset – Build on pre-existing community assets and design for a long-term legacy
  • Carry the baton – Define a shared long-term mission all parties can work towards and pay attention to the gaps between partners’ impact
  • Aim for transformative change – Be visionary, inspiring and hopeful, rather than transactional.
  • Be people-centred – Channel social impact close to those impacted by regeneration. Work towards mutually supportive relationships built on empathy and respect for all involved.
  • Value process – Remember that social value is created in regeneration processes. Establish a learning culture and make sure all parties are clear on how they are involved.
Three young people sitting smiling with outside a building with plants and trees in the background
Lola Martinez-Rufete, Bhav Ghedia, and Celine Nithila-George of LLDC’s Elevate Youth Board

In the report, we have also collected case studies from a wide range of projects to inspire new thinking and provide evidence of what has already worked. Case studies in the report include:

  • Youth involvement shaping plans for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
  • UCL’s Citizen Scientist Academy creating capacity for community research
  • Longitudinal data for assessing social value of development in South Acton
  • London borough initiatives to involve people in decision-making including participatory budgeting
  • Camden Council enabling its own staff to image radical and optimistic future

Recommendations for creating a social value legacy

We aimed to create a resource of ideas, examples and guiding principles to help anyone involved in regeneration to adopt a legacy mindset. However we also make two recommendations to embed the concept:

  • Development partners should create a “developer endowment” to fund community-led research and  a ten-year review of social value legacy.
  • Using a legacy mindset helps practitioners and community representatives to build trust and understanding.

Thank you to all the built environment professionals and community representatives who contributed to this project. We hope the resource provides inspiration and direction, as well as useful tools to enable anyone involved in regeneration to focus on creating a social value legacy.

Download the report to explore the principles, guidance and case studies. You can also download the graphics and worksheets to use in presentations or as workshops.

Please get in touch with Future of London if we can help you to put these concepts into practice.


Download Social Value: How to be a good ancestor here
Download the report graphics and workshop resources here
Read all the session write-ups from our social value conference here

Thanks to our partners who made the project possible

Bouygues UKCountryside PartnershipsMount Anvil, Pollard Thomas EdwardsTrowers & Hamlins and Yoo Capital