The past year has seen perhaps the most unprecedented and challenging trading conditions we have experienced. Successfully navigating our way through the COVID-19 crisis has relied on us engaging with and supporting our stakeholders throughout. We have worked closely with our occupiers supporting them in accessing their space safely whilst providing financial assistance where necessary, we’ve worked with our suppliers to allow essential works to continue, provided funds to our communities to help those hardest hit, and put the health and wellbeing of our employees front and centre. Our shared experience has built on already strong relationships and, as a result, we believe that we will come through this crisis stronger.
Creating sustainable relationships
Our Community Strategy ‘Creating Sustainable Relationships’ aims to ensure that we leave a lasting, positive legacy for our communities and is built around the following four pillars:
Breaking the cycle of youth homelessness
The pandemic has placed a huge strain upon Centrepoint and the young people that they support. Along with making a £25,000 donation to Centrepoint’s Emergency Appeal, the GPE team raised over £14,000 and donated over £800 in gifts to Centrepoint’s Christmas gift drive. All this was achieved whilst working from home, reflecting the high level of employee engagement with our strategy.
We also extended our partnership to provide pro bono support for Centrepoint’s Independent Living Programme, which aims to provide truly affordable housing to enable young people to live independently and move on from supported housing services. Given our expertise as a property developer, we are providing pro bono programme management and risk advisory support to Centrepoint for their flagship modular housing development in Southwark.
Improving air quality and urban greening
Increasing biodiversity and creating greater connections with green spaces and nature is the shared goal of Wild West End, a collaboration of leading London property owners, of which we are a member. Their Value Matrix, a framework to support the delivery of good quality, multi-functional green space, forms the basis of our target to deliver Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) across our portfolio.
During the year, we joined the Developer Forum for London National Park City, which complements the vision of Wild West End and extends this across the other boroughs in which we operate.
We continued to support Groundwork London. However, due to the pandemic, many of the planned greening and air quality projects needed to be put on hold as the charity redirected their attention to vulnerable communities. The funds ring-fenced for much needed greening and air quality projects, will be distributed during the forthcoming year.
We also donated a further £20,000 to Bankside Open Spaces Trust, an environmental charity working to transform green spaces in SE1. Our donation enabled the charity to bring their team off furlough and allowed them to keep the green spaces that they maintain open, supporting the wellbeing of the local community.
Addressing the skills gap through engagement with education
Partnering with schools, colleges and universities to provide skills and employability initiatives is essential if we are to inspire the workforce of the future and address the construction skills gap.
Whilst we could not host site tours for construction students during 2020, we were still able to reach nearly 450 students across University of Westminster and the UCL through online guest lectures on topics such as sustainability, innovation and technology, using our developments as real-life case studies.
In recognition of the impact of lost schooling on young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, we repurposed some of our community budget with a £13,000 donation to employability initiatives through the Young Westminster Foundation and supported the National Literacy Trust in a virtual internship to prepare school leavers from 12 London schools for the world of work.
We continue to support young people by encouraging our supply chain to maximise apprenticeship opportunities at our developments and across our investment portfolio. Our service partners had four apprentices working exclusively in our buildings during 2020.
Mitigating the risk of modern slavery in our portfolio
Due to the nature of our business activities, there is a risk of modern slavery within our supply chains; construction remained one of the most prevalent sectors for modern slavery during 2020.
During the year, Unseen, a modern slavery charity and provider of the Modern Slavery Helpline, provided training to our team on the impact of COVID-19 on their work.
Victims of modern slavery are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19, which includes homelessness, mental health trauma and re-exploitation. Therefore, we donated £25,000 to Hestia’s Phoenix Project. The pioneering project works with the survivors of modern slavery, offering long-term support, to help them recover and rebuild their lives. Our donation provided the flexibility to allow the charity to respond to client needs during the pandemic, supporting 56 victims and over 60 dependant children.
We also relaunched our Supplier Code of Conduct, which reaffirmed our support of the objectives of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority’s Construction Protocol and our plans to continue our Labour Practice audits at all construction projects over £5 million. The London Living Wage is provided for all service provider employees working at our buildings. At our developments we are working with our construction contractors to support the continued roll-out of the London Living Wage through their supply chains.