Unlock your high street buildings with a social value lease

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Local communities often have amazing ideas for town centre buildings, but struggle to get affordable, secure access. Here are some practical steps and free templates for reviving vacant buildings in partnership with asset owners.
13 Apr, 2023
Frances Northrop,

Frances Northrop,

Co-Founder, Platform Places

Walk along Poole’s Kingland Crescent and you’ll see it’s busier than usual. Local people and visitors alike are exploring the mix of new creative and impactful businesses that are occupying ten units: a restored second-hand furniture shop, coffee roaster, design studio, zero waste grocery shop, fishmonger and social enterprise art gallery. Many of these businesses were identified and recruited by a Holly, a local resident known to much of Poole’s creative community.

What’s enabled this? Inspired by the innovation from local businesses and residents, Legal & General offered these units under a social value lease. Occupiers access the units rent-free for two years to test and grow their ideas, and in exchange, they bring vibrancy, impact and footfall. 

“We see these sorts of local businesses and the relationships around them as the future of high street retail. We expect that, in time, most will become paying occupiers – likely on a revenue share model.” Matt Soffair, Research Manager, Retail and Leisure Real Assets, L&G

Other leading asset owners are doing the same – from Bywater Properties in Belfast to Ellandi in Bootle – making some of their units available to artisan retail, repair shops, music venues, urban farms, co-working spaces, community kitchens and more. 

How can you achieve the same thing where you are? How can we get to the mutually beneficial place where would-be occupiers, especially those without commercial property leasing experience, have constructive  relationships with asset owners and agents.

From ‘landlord vs tenant’ to local partnerships

Historically, there’s been a lack of understanding and trust between asset owners and occupiers – a sense of ‘us versus them’. But the culture is starting to shift; a shared language is emerging; relationships and trust are weaving back into places.

More than ever, town centre asset owners and landlords of different kinds are seeing the need to use their buildings for social and environmental impact as well as a financial return – and to work in partnership with local authorities and community organisations to do this.

“By unlocking property for a more diverse range of entrepreneurial and creative occupiers, landlords and investors can meet ESG targets while improving vacancy rates and business success. Social impact Head of Terms are the key.” Kirsty Black, Partner at law firm Shoosmiths

With a social impact agreement — whether a lease or license to occupy — everyone stands to benefit

As a local business or socially-trading organisation (STO), you can equip yourself with the free documents below, as you start the conversation with asset owners. 

You can try this directly with the owner, or around a collaborative local partnership dinner table with trusted agents, community leaders, and local authority representatives who know the social, environmental and economic potential of bringing buildings into community use or ownership. 

    1. Download a template Heads of Terms to use a basis for the social value lease (or other kind of occupier agreement), drafted by legal firm Shoosmiths
    2. Download a set of principles for working together – as agreed by the asset owners and STO leaders behind Platform Places

As asset owners become more aware of the power of impactful local occupiers to reduce vacancies and meet important environmental and social and governance (ESG) objectives, a social value lease can unlock the door to a better future for our high streets.

About Platform Places

Platform Places is a social enterprise unlocking town centre buildings for amazing ideas that help us live affordably, sustainably and together. It convenes and supports councils, communities and asset owners to bring buildings into long-term community use or ownership.

Power to Change is a founding partner, alongside High Street Task Force, British Property Federation, New Local, Radix and Shoosmiths.