Unlocking Social Value

How to unlock social value in housing and regeneration

Group of eight boys and girls with skateboards and helmets photographed in front of a graffiti wall
Social value for skateboarders at Queen Elizabeth Park (Photo: London Legacy Development Corporation)

Are housing and regeneration projects unlocking social value for communities, and if so how? Our practice-based research project finds out.

For the last ten years, public bodies have been required by law to consider how to unlock social value in housing and regeneration projects. So how is this being done well, and is there evidence of community benefits?

Our major programme for 2023/24 will explore how housing and regeneration projects can unlock more social value for communities in London.

The final report, Social Value: How to be a good ancestor, is published on 16 May. Register now for the report launch here

We will consider how to create a “social value legacy” in places throughout London by planning for long-term social impact. To support this aim, we will develop guidance to help boroughs, businesses and communities to collaborate, and create social value together.

The programme will bring together practitioners, investors and community stakeholders to develop the case for meaningful social value interventions.

What is social value in housing and regeneration?

Social value is the benefit to the economy, communities and the environment from commercial investment. It has huge potential to shape how people experience places, so the built environment sector has an important role to play.

Since the Public Services (Social Value) Act in 2012, social value has grown in importance. The sector has used several mechanisms to deliver social value, including Section 106 agreements, public sector procurement, and planning policy.

But the traditional approach of ‘added extras’ in bids or planning applications may be disappearing. We are seeing a more integrated approach to social value that delivers sustainable and equitable places to meet social needs.

Group of young people in hard hats and hi-viz vests standing on scaffolding on a building site
Training as social value: students on placement. Picture: Countryside

Is social value working for communities?

There are concerns that housing and regeneration projects are not unlocking as much social value for communities in London as they should. Why?

Firstly, the concept is not clearly understood. There are many terms to describe similar approaches, such as impact investing, responsible procurement, and environmental, social and governance (ESG).

Different terms appeal to different organisations so public and private sectors aren’t speaking the same language.

Secondly, the current approach to social value relies heavily on financial measures as a proxy for social impact. Measuring the intangible benefits, like wellbeing, and demonstrating the long-term impact are more meaningful but harder to do.

There’s also a lack of understanding of the commercial and wider economic impact.

“We know the places we live are critical to our health, wellbeing, and quality of life. Adopting a social value approach to development offers real potential to deliver a city which is truly inclusive, safer, resilient, and sustainable.”

Maria Adebowale-Schwarte and David Elliott
London Sustainable Development Commission

Finally, communities now expect more practical outcomes and activities from social value. As co-production and participatory budgeting become more common, pre-defined social value metrics are no longer good enough.

We think community engagement should be at the heart of understanding local need.

How can we unlock more social value?

With rising poverty and inequality, creating meaningful social value is more important than ever. Our sector must work harder to improve the wellbeing of communities across London – and beyond.

During the programme, we are considering questions including:

  • who should be delivering social value?
  • what the best metrics are for measuring social value and its impact?
  • why should we collaborate with communities to understand local need?
  • how can the public, private and third sectors align their respective agendas on social value to maximise impact?

Picture of people sitting on deckchairs on artificial grass at the South Bank Centre in London


What does it take to build an inclusive city for young people that leaves a lasting legacy in Hackney? Our field trip on Tuesday 26 September went to find out. Write-up to follow shortly.

Our conference, Unlocking Social Value, was on Tuesday 4 July 2023. A write-up with speaker slides and video is here.

The online launch of Unlocking Social Value was on Thursday 4 May. See the speaker list here and a recording of the online event here.

Sign up to our mailing list to find out about future events in this programme first.




Please get in touch if you would like to find out more by about Unlocking Social Value.

We would love to hear from you if you have case studies or evidence of impact of a social value project.

Contact us


Thanks to our programme sponsors

Bouygues UK, Countryside Partnerships, Linkcity, Mount Anvil, 
Pollard Thomas Edwards, Trowers & Hamlins, YooCapital