Unlocking Social Value conference write-up

Beyond the tick-box: Levers and barriers to delivering meaningful social value

Woman at a conference lectern introduces 'levers and barriers to delivering social value' with four women seated to her left in front of a presentation screen.
Jenny Rydon of Montagu Evans introduces the ‘levers and barriers’ discussion

Social value is changing as practitioners make long-term impact a priority. This increasing scrutiny is an opportunity to identify the levers and barriers to delivering social value in urban development.  

In this session, the panel took stock of social value. They explored what is working well, what drives meaningful impact, and what stands in the way of effective delivery.

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Find out about our social value programme for 2023/24 here.


  • Sara Bailey, Senior Partner, Trowers & Hamlins
  • Joanna Dahlgren, Head of Social Value & SROI, LB Waltham Forest
  • Vivienne King, Head of Real Estate Social Impact, The Good Economy
  • Jenny Rydon, Partner and Head of Strategic Advisory, Montagu Evans (Chair)
  • Kelly Thomas, Social Value and Fundraising Manager, Metropolitan Thames Valley

Sara Bailey, Trowers & Hamlins

There’s a risk that social value measurement has gone too far and is almost its own industry. Do we need to report impact to hold ourselves accountable for delivery? Here are some factors to consider:

  • To make an impact, you must put social value at the heart of what you do.
  • Evidencing impact can be a complex and formulaic task and can mean spending more time fitting delivery to criteria than thinking about best practice.
  • Remembering that social value is not about us as professionals is often easier said than done. Putting residents first means opening yourself up to difficult conversations.

“My challenge to the industry is: let’s not over complicate this to a point where we don’t actually deliver.”


Joanna Dahlgren, LB Waltham Forest

Two years after publishing its first social value policy, LB Waltham Forest has been reflecting on its impact. Here are some insights its gained:

  • There’s a need to build of coalition of the willing across all industries and to develop common goals through meaningful long-term relationships.
  • Procurement is an essential lever where social value efforts need to be upgraded.
  • Social value interventions must be locally relevant and based on real community needs and priorities.

“Social value needs to be ‘socialised’ through all local authority departments.”

Kelly Thomas on the importance of resident voice

Kelly Thomas, Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing

Resident voices are the lifeblood of social value for any project. A shared understanding of a project’s aims helps to amplify these voices. Here are some key pointers for a resident-centred approach:

  • Section 106 is not fit for delivering value for communities.
  • Local people are the legacy and custodians of social value. The role of facilitators is to encourage ambition and raise residents’ expectations of what they can ask for.
  • Although the Social Value Leadership Group doesn’t prescribe what social value means, members are united by six key themes including the living wage and soliciting actionable feedback.

“We need to do more collaboration to get stuff done. When we’re lacking resources we should ask: how can we do more in partnership?”


Vivienne King, The Good Economy

The shift in private sector attitudes towards social value goes well beyond the built environment. Culture shift is placing ethical expectations on financial markets, alongside tightening legal requirements, risk management and increased awareness of social and spatial inequality – 27%* of UK children live in poverty according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2020/2021). The real estate industry is well placed to respond.

  • The industry doesn’t operate in the ether. Buildings are social assets used directly for living working leisure, but can also cast a halo (or shadow) on people’s experience of community, wellbeing, behaviours.
  • Senior teams can keep a steady eye on purpose by intentionally integrating social value into decision-making.
  • Social impact can be applied like any other business imperative, with KPIs and targets to measure the real world outcomes as a result of good intentions.

“The built environment has an intimate relationship with people.”


There’s an atmosphere of excitement around the mainstreaming of social value and the potential for the built environment to battle inequality in the UK.

Progress requires a feat of co-ordination. On one hand, the drive for social value needs to be integrated across industries and sectors. On the other hand, social value delivery needs to be decentralised, time-intensive and resident-led.

Further Reading

Find out more about our Unlocking Social Value research programme here.

Thanks to our programme sponsors Bouygues UK Countryside Partnerships Linkcity Mount Anvil Pollard Thomas Edwards Trowers & Hamlins and Yoo Capital.

Thanks to our conference sponsors Commonplace Lovell and Montagu Evans