Social value: How to build an enduring legacy

12th October 2023

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Social value: How to build an enduring legacy

The development of new health and care facilities doesn’t simply reshape the physical landscape of towns and cities; their creation holds the power to alter the social fabric of communities. In this article, we explore why embedding social value at the inception of a project catalyses meaningful and profound change.

The breadth of value that a development can add to its surrounding area can be transformational to the health, wealth and wellbeing of the communities who live there — from the generation of new employment opportunities and the injection of capital into the local supply chain to the creation of inclusive and accessible spaces that boost community cohesion and wellbeing.

While new frameworks, such as The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, provide definitions and guidelines on how public projects can elicit greater social value, data and analytics can also only ever reveal part of the story. Understanding social value is as much about the motivations of the people who bring these developments to life as it is about the metrics used to assess their success.

Prime has always recognised our duty to be a force for good; it’s why, over the past two years, we’ve expanded our in-house social value resources. It’s also why we’re using our knowledge and experience to support our clients, suppliers and partners to become more effective allies in the effort to deliver the greatest social value to every project.

“Whilst we are an SME, we’re also at the forefront of trying to deliver that solution, that message, that involvement in the communities that we work with, to show that the built environment has the capability to deliver lasting change.”

Heather Alexander, Communications & Community Engagement Manager, Prime plc

ESG, social impact or social value – what’s the difference?

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) has dominated boardroom strategies for some time, as businesses look to mitigate their impacts and operate more ethically; however, its limitations have become increasingly clear. ESG reporting tools and strategies focus on measuring impact and setting out rules for the minimum standards to be achieved by businesses for the duration of a project or activity only.

More recently, industry interest has been directed towards social impact, an outcome-driven approach that measures the immediate outputs of changes or improvements resulting from construction activity — for example, the number of new apprenticeships created during the construction of a new hospital.

While these tools, frameworks and measurements have helped develop more ethical practices and expanded considerations of organisational responsibility, they have also perpetuated an inward-facing approach. With these limitations in mind, Prime has repositioned our strategies and measurements within the broader scope of social value. Unlike ESG, social value examines wider, long-term environmental, economic and social wellbeing benefits that drive better community outcomes long after construction is complete.

Purpose beyond profit

Today, resource scarcity, sustainability, funding and procurement challenges have become endemic issues for developers who continually balance future needs against present-day limitations — issues Prime has covered in-depth in our podcast series. In addition, when it comes to organisational responsibility, organisations are being held to a higher standard than ever before. Economic volatility, climate change awareness, a global health crisis and shifting social values have moved the needle on stakeholder expectations of business, with increasing demands for organisations to demonstrate purpose beyond profit.

With rapidly changing parameters, tools and mechanisms driving the social value agenda, many organisations struggle to keep up, while others risk finding themselves in ‘box-ticking’ mode and never moving beyond statutory requirements to deliver greater social value. When done correctly, social value measurement should work to uncover areas for improvement and deliver on those findings. Approaching it with an honest and open mindset creates space for growth that ultimately drives better outcomes for communities.

That’s why Prime has committed to providing an in-house social value expert to work directly with site managers and other relevant people in reporting roles. By providing education, support and engagement at every stage of the project lifecycle and setting out our activity and reporting expectations to suppliers early in the procurement process, we are helping overcome the blockers to improve social value outcomes.

Social value in action

So, what does social value look like in health and care developments? As well as giving local communities the opportunity to have a say in what is developed in their area through a proactive engagement process, a new infrastructure project can offer a local community additional benefits that include:

  • The creation of jobs, apprenticeships, training and education, providing new opportunities and improving the local workforce’s skills.
  • The development of sustainable buildings created from sustainable materials and processes.
  • A financial boost into regional economies through the injection of capital into local supply chains.
  • The regeneration of areas can encourage continued local investment, creating safer spaces and reducing crime.
  • Providing spaces that enhance people’s health and wellbeing and encourage community cohesion, such as green spaces and community facilities.
  • Charitable donations to local groups that improve social outcomes in the community.
  • Engaging and educational school visits to sites that teach children about the development process and introduce career opportunities.

The following three projects capture Prime’s commitment to deliver enduring social value and highlight why stakeholder engagement at the earliest opportunity leads to better outcomes for both the project and the communities they will serve:

On paper, car parks might not seem like the most transformational projects, but at Dorset County Hospital, this development was the key to unlocking serious estate challenges for the site, while proactively engaging a whole community along the way. As well as devising a safe and long-term parking solution, the car park construction benefitted from considered planning with the addition of 600 new trees, community-selected artwork and 93% of project waste diverted from landfill.

Transforming a run-down Newcastle-Under-Lyme nightclub and listed building into a dementia-friendly heritage centre at the heart of a specialist care village is a considerable shift. However, understanding the community’s affinity to this once-loved site helped Prime to enhance the Belong Care Village offer, honouring the heritage of the area while creating a vital and engaging facility for the whole community to enjoy.

Developing high-performing, sustainable, low-energy buildings is essential to helping the NHS achieve its aim of being the​​ world’s first net-zero national health service. The new Community Diagnostic Centre at Yeovil District Hospital is the type of development helping this ambition become a reality, utilising photovoltaic panels to meet energy demands, improving biodiversity on the site and achieving net zero embodied carbon.

Stakeholder engagement is always fundamental to the success of construction projects, but these relationships carry even greater significance when looking to enhance social value. How communities are treated during a development carries a legacy just as valuable as the spaces created.

To understand a structure or facility’s lasting legacy, you must first understand the needs, desires and aspirations of the communities they serve. Today, technology is enhancing traditional engagement methods such as Open Door Days and Meet the Buyer events.  Online public consultation and survey tools make engaging accessible to a broader range of the community, helping to strengthen relationships and communicate ambitions and outcomes with greater inclusivity.

How is social value measured?

As a B Corp, Prime strongly focuses on the people and planet outcomes resulting from its development and construction activities and operations at head office. Calculating outputs is an essential part of this mission, which is why we have a team dedicated to measuring and enhancing social value. Using a bespoke matrix we create annual reports on outcomes delivered using tools that calculate our social value ratio figure.

Utilising a social value calculator provided by Loop which produces figures by measuring outcomes against several recognised social value frameworks, Prime can generate a realistic picture of our social value contributions that also considers the monetary value of social value activity to assess the Social Return on Investment (SROI).

Measurement matters, but progress starts with people

‘The more I work on social value, the more I realise that I can give people all the reports and tools, but nothing is as impactful as sitting down opposite a site manager and sharing why what we do matters.’

Heather Alexander, Communications & Community Engagement Manager, Prime plc

Social value technologies, frameworks and mechanisms are vital in bringing about progress, but it’s just as important to recognise that ambitions, motivations and communication shared between stakeholders drive real and lasting change. For example, understanding how to create health and care environments that enhance the wellbeing of patients and residents with good indoor air quality, natural light and access to green spaces is just as important as the choice of materials used to create these spaces.[1]

When pursuing greater social value, avoid getting fixated on the numbers and metrics. Ratio figures change, goalposts move and the perception of what adds genuine value shifts, but when done right, what endures are the real impacts and legacy of social value that strike at the hearts and minds of communities. And that’s immeasurable.

[1] The “healthy” built environment – balancing wellbeing, comfort and sustainability, UKGBC, 2023

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