Simon Claridge

Aug 17, 2022, 9:00 AM

What we really need are bicycles

By Simon Claridge

This was the beautifully simple reply from the coordinator of a medium-sized Midlands Pakistani community organisation to the question, "What would make the biggest difference to the way things are now?”  

The question itself was hugely important. Often we neglect to make such pure and simple enquiries. We tend not to take the time to better understand how other people see the world we are living in together.

It is in this context that the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector and its understanding of Social Value could be improved and, in doing so, make a telling difference.

A time of need

These are hard times. The cost of living crisis will affect everyone – indeed it already is – and this is on the back of two-and-a-half years of a pandemic, which changed lives profoundly for many, now and for the future.  

The pandemic brought into sharp relief the enduring question, “Do we focus on the health of the nation or the economy?” An unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. There is no one answer. 

Now we are faced with the same question again, for a different but equally critical reason. For millions, the fuel crisis means the coming winter months will be about survival rather than living. My recommendation would be to take another look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

The transformational potential of construction

Against this backdrop, Social Value and what it means to communities across the land comes into focus. Equally, the importance of the VCSE sector could possibly never have been so acute.

Locally situated, plugged in, fingers on the pulse, grassroots organisations are fundamental to the needs of local people. It is, therefore, vital that they understand how to secure the resources needed to respond to local priorities in a time of crisis and beyond.

The construction industry holds the potential to make a huge difference to people at local level. It is an industry that never stops; it’s like a juggernaut speeding along a motorway. Look at any city across the world and the number of cranes will be an indicator of the health of the economy. So what we know is that, even during times of extreme crisis, the bricks continue to be laid. 

Sustainability and Social Value came into law in 2012 and placed a statutory responsibility on the construction industry to specify how it would either design in or ensure (for fit out and other building adaptations) delivery of these two requirements.  

Broadly, Sustainability is how a building will achieve environmental targets, such as carbon reduction or carbon neutrality. Social Value can be defined as how, after winning a contract, a developer will make an “investment” back into the community. Normally this is weighted at around 10% of the contract value, so, depending on the size the contract, the SV figure can be significant, potentially in the millions.

Putting the money where it's needed

In my experience, though, the deployment and spending of Social Value resources is often decided by the construction companies themselves, with little or no real engagement with local people. The chance to optimise the impact of this sizeable investment and effect meaningful change to people’s lives is missed.

Building the capacity of the VCSE sector to understand the opportunities that Social Value investment can afford locally is, in my view, critical. Sooner or later, Wates, Taylor Woodrow, Keir or any other contractor you care to mention will ride into town. The importance of informed, meaningful and evidence-based dialogue cannot be underestimated. 

There must be a demonstrable understanding from the VCSE sector of what Social Value means, in order to work in partnership with these companies to really respond to local need and to change people’s lives for the better and build a legacy. Knowledge is power. 

So why the bikes, as opposed to painting a school playground or offering an apprenticeship? What transpired, through discussion, was that the community's women had gained weight during the lockdown and wanted a way to exercise. What they really wanted was to ride bicycles in the local park together. 

And so the bicycles were duly provided. It was a beautifully simple solution to an evidence based problem.

If you would like further guidance on accessing Social Value funding in your community, we can help. Email office@actionplanning.co.uk or call 01737 814758



Simon Claridge

Simon Claridge is an independent consultant specialising in Social Value and works with VCSE and Third Sector organisations and individuals to enable them to better understand Social Value and how it can bring meaningful investment into communities.

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