My route into real estate wasn’t part of any grand career plan. It was a journey that taught me the importance of job satisfaction, transferable skills and curiosity. Along the way, I had spells working as a bookmaker and in the oil industry, but I decided that I needed to try my hand at something with a more tangible benefit.
I’d never worked in property, but my financial skills gave me a route into the industry and in 1998 I joined the Australian real estate and investment group, Lendlease, which at the time was focussing on shopping centres, having recently moved to the UK. It turned out to be a fantastic introduction to the property industry, with an ability to understand the consumer psyche proving essential to succeeding in this sector, a skill that continues to grow in importance across all property uses.
Even back then, placemaking was high on the agenda, with Lendlease paving the way for the future of destination shopping, and the crucial addition of leisure to the mix. The concept of blending leisure and placemaking really sparked my imagination and after the success of Bluewater and Chapelfield, moving from a finance role into a development one, we started to look at genuine mixed-use development.
As part of this expansion, Lendlease chose to invest in First Base and I had my first taste of the start-up ethos that I grew to love. A successful 17 years followed, during which First Base delivered projects with creativity, great design and placemaking at their heart. Adelaide Wharf, an early AHMM scheme, included one of London’s first co-working spaces, creating a buzz and helping to give it an identity; KX Nido was an early mover in the emerging Kings Cross regeneration, including offices, residential, student accommodation and retail all within a single building; and the Heart of East Greenwich incorporated leisure and retail alongside mixed-tenure residential and, to my knowledge, was the UK’s first zero carbon mixed-use development.
All First Base developments integrated affordable housing and sustainability as a priority. We also developed a reputation for working with top-end architects, which was unusual at the time because developers predominantly relied on in-house teams with limited capabilities. As a senior director at First Base, we also worked on a number of London’s high-profile mixed-use regeneration projects such as Stratford, Elephant & Castle and Earls Court.
In 2017 we made the conscious decision to look outside of London for the first time and focus on major mixed-use developments in some of the regional cities which we thought had strong growth potential. As we expanded this strategy, I became CEO of First Base and sought to further embed ESG values into all our projects and activities. Our timing was helpful, as for the first time in our history, we found that we were swimming with the investor tide rather than against it; and our commitments were starting to strike a chord.
On 6th December 2021, First Base separated into two independent, separately-run companies, and Socius was born. Socius launched with a £1bn urban regeneration pipeline, the ongoing commitment of all of our investors, and an established and experienced team. Our focus is on developing high-quality mixed-use developments on brownfield sites (why does anyone choose to build on greenfield land?) in city locations, with a major emphasis on sustainability and social value creation. To demonstrate that we are not just talking the talk but walking the walk, we have committed to becoming a B-Corp, and embedding these values in everything that we do.
The Socius business is built on a genuine passion for people and public spaces, which is reflected in the developments we bring forward. In order to create and nurture an effective community we choose to focus on larger mixed-use schemes, with scale allowing us to impact on the environment. Critical mass is necessary to retain control of the dynamic and avoid relying on neighbours. We typically deliver schemes in a single phase and prioritise reaching out to the community - we will never turn our back on the surrounding community, and we endeavour to make those living in the vicinity feel part of the development.
Our existing team, which currently stands at 19, works with investment, design and ESG partners to support our exciting projects, including Member’s Hill (Weybridge), Soapworks (Bristol), MK Gateway (Milton Keynes), Devonshire Gardens (Cambridge), Edward Street Quarter (Brighton) and St Christopher’s Square (Bristol). They are unique in delivery, but similar in philosophy. And we have ambitions to grow the team and extend the positive influence that we can have on the neighbourhoods that we work in and on the whole industry. There remains plenty to do!
Barry has recently shared his experience in NHBC's BTR 'Insights from industry leaders'. To read the full report, click here