Plenty of column inches across the property press have been taken up with talk of environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments over the past few years. And for good reason – our industry is fundamental to the economic, social and environmental prosperity of the nation.

Ailish Christian-West

Ailish Christian-West

And while reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Get Living, I have been thinking a lot more about the ‘S’ in ESG, specifically the role that creators of places have in delivering social value and being a force for good in communities.

The word ‘social’ itself is defined as “needing companionship and, therefore, best suited to living in communities”. In ESG terms, social relates to the impact companies make with regards to supporting local economies, jobs and people, ultimately supporting a stronger and more connected community. That, in turn, generates companionship and a sense of togetherness – between residents and their neighbours, and the people and businesses around them.

How companionship manifests itself for us is through belonging, which we see as being at the heart of successful, thriving communities. Building belonging should be fundamental to our vision for the property industry in the UK, because time and time again feeling connected to and supported by the community in which you live is important to quality of life.

And yet, we have never set out to measure it – until now. Get Living recently surveyed 10,000 people nationwide alongside 100 of our own residents, running the first quantitative analysis of what it means to belong and how the built environment can shape this.

Connection, creativity, and community all underpin a sense of belonging. But it is something more than that: something tangible. But the data was not there to confirm what that was. What we’ve found is critical to our vision of the future of UK real estate.

The survey reveals that belonging is shaped by security, collaboration and human interaction. In turn, people who feel they belong are happy and healthier. Two thirds of people surveyed who rated their mental health and wellbeing as good had a high sense of belonging (compared with 38% who reported having poor health).

Belonging can develop from a quick hello from a neighbour or getting involved with community activities. In fact, those who engage with their neighbours and attend local events are twice and three times more likely respectively to agree they feel this sense of belonging than disagree. But the wider neighbourhood offering also supports a feeling of belonging. For example, 45% of people said that their high street or town centre created a sense of togetherness and 59% said that shopping and eating locally were important to them.

The data also found that those in build-to-rent housing reported the highest sense of belonging in their communities (61%).

Accessibility needs to be a core principle for any new development and community. At each stage of planning, the industry needs to go beyond statutory obligations and think beyond the future residents to consider the wider community.

Developments have to work for more than just the people living there. That goes for any neighbourhood or any organisation developing new homes as part of a wider regeneration project. All places have a legacy of history, culture and people that make up that community. Placemakers have an obligation to work with all these stakeholders, to ensure they deliver social value and build healthy, happy, safe and vibrant places for people to live.

Ailish Christian-West is chief operating officer at Get Living