At U+I, we have a view of the changing world and we need to help nurture it with places and spaces where people can flourish. We have a responsibility to create things that are relevant, distinctive and local, with the right materiality, the right thought and respect, because what we do tends to last.
That can’t be done in isolation. You need to connect with the people whose lives you are affecting and with the places they come from.
We have noticed time and again that when you look back in history, you find all kinds of things that might be interesting points of reference for your suggestions of change – old churches, breweries, little theatres, buried rivers and streams, graffiti , names , events, spirits – places offering a window into what life was like.
And glimpsing a locality’s history can provide inspiration for the future potential and connection. It can help us to harness the special and unique qualities of a particular place; the fibres of influence over time which have made an area what it is today, and all it could be. Development that takes this into account tends to be more productive because it is unlocking the potential that is already there, by enhancing those connections between past, present and future.
Connecting the past with the future provides authenticity. It diffuses the cynicism that you are only there for short-term gain; it shows you understand the place where you are building and appreciate that it needs to be there for the long term.
So we go back in history and forward in time, always striving to find the best balance between a range of different people. Because the more representative our projects are of society’s needs in the broadest sense, the better a job we have done. We seize the moment but in the greater context of historical provenance and future prospects.
We are constantly asking ourselves: What’s missing? How might we provide it? How might we cultivate something that is already in the soil?
In many ways, we are not so much owners as curators. We are not putting pretentious hoardings around our sites and telling everyone to keep out. We don’t ‘own’ it; we employ it to greater productive use.
The French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once proclaimed “Property is theft!” – which many others have agreed with over the years. But, when developments are done properly, they can be hugely productive to the wider community and of course to our shareholders because we are managing risk and creating value.
To put it simply, bad development raises barriers between people. Good development demolishes those barriers. It can enrich lives, encourage greater connections across society and liberate enterprise.
So we want to invite and involve people in creating places and spaces for socio-economic purpose over a period of time. And that sense of time is hugely important because we are changing things across generations. We have to work out the alchemy of myriad conversations and compromises to deliver something that will stand its ground and make a difference.
But you can only achieve that by making the right connections, at every level. It’s not easy and we don’t always get it right but this quest to connect is an essential part of U+I. It creates integrity, fosters engagement and, ultimately, engenders success.
We deal with lots of different variables every day: the business and economic environment, the complex places where we work and the diverse array of stakeholders involved in and affected by our projects. But we always have one aim in mind: we are trying to make things better because that’s what great regeneration is. So we are constantly checking those variables and adding new ones, if we think that will make a positive difference to the places we are building.
But all those variables need to be connected. And the more you are willing to accept that every one thing can influence another, the more open your mind can be and the more you are able to create a business that embraces progress.
It’s about being audacious, curious, refusing to accept the status quo. Granted it’s not easy. But it’s an essential part of who we are and what we are trying to do.
We are building a great company, with a strong culture and a determination to deliver an outstanding performance to communities and shareholders. The connection between those two is increasingly apparent. And, bluntly, without it, the property market is dead.