RealWorth: the organisation making the invisible visible
How do you measure the financial value of community cohesion, youth inclusion or the impact of green space on wellbeing? How do you convince investors and developers that this value is worth spending their money on? Prof Erik Bichard and Phil Higham, Co-Founders of RealWorth, are here to tell us the how and why.
RealWorth are the first organisation to set up camp at LAB Base, our new private office space within the LAB community. I sat down with Erik to ask him about the company’s journey so far, and how their path led them to LAB Base…
Firstly, what exactly does RealWorth do? What’s the mission?
RealWorth launched in 2016. The company is a collaboration between Phil Higham and myself and is based on research I carried out while a Professor at the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment. I had already been working in the field for seven years, but soon found that our mission; demonstrating the importance of societal (social and environmental) value to commercial businesses, developers and investors, would be better served outside of academia.
As a result, we focused on those who wanted to use predictions or evaluations of both social and environmental impact to further their organisation’s objectives. This appeals to built environment specialists and place-making organisations who are under increasing pressure from stakeholders to demonstrate their social and environmental sustainability, but who also have a commitment to make a positive contribution to society. Put simply, conventional methods of valuation used by built environment professionals mainly focus on the market-based and the physical, RealWorth’s approach (known as Sustainable Return on Investment or SuROI) puts a value on the social and environmental changes. Our mission is to show the market that social and environmental value is a measurable, tangible concept – and not something to be shied away from.
How have you found yourselves at LAB?
RealWorth originally operated on an associate model, whereby we took freelancers on as and when the workload increased.
However, as the market “switched on” to our work, we have started to recruit additional staff to help manage the workload. This led us to search for our first dedicated office space, where the team could work collaboratively, meet clients and benefit from the support of other start-up organisations.
Why did you choose LAB over other co-working options?
We considered other co-working spaces in Manchester and London, but nowhere had LAB’s unique offer of private office space within a co-working community. The flexibility of LAB Base will allow RealWorth to discuss work confidentially with clients one minute then collaborate with co-members and benefit from LAB’s mentor network the next. There is nowhere else in the North West that we know where this is possible!
How will this move support business growth? What do the next few months look like for RealWorth?
We have several ongoing projects, both in the UK and internationally. U+I, for example, are a specialist regeneration property developer that ask us to work in England and Ireland. We also have a project in Southern Sweden funded by the Swedish government, which is examining how best to construct new development to promote community cohesion, particularly against the background of racial and political tensions that are currently surfacing in that area. Another client Beijing Construction and Engineering Group is interested in maximising community investment in the areas around its development projects.
We are also starting to work in more rural areas of the UK. For example, in Ticehurst Village, East Sussex where we are working with the Parish Council and local enterprises to use community enterprise to mitigate social isolation and low employment rates through regeneration projects. This means advising where best to invest to produce the best social, health and environmental outcomes, such as improved health and wellbeing.
The new private office space at LAB Base will also prepare us for any additional staff members that are recruited to support a bigger workload, as well as maximise our opportunities for networking and collaboration with fellow LAB members and mentors.