Social value needs to be based on what a community needs most

Public investment in rail infrastructure has the potential to return significant value to communities. Think of all the skills – both technical and interpersonal – that reside in a major contractor’s business. Donating a small part of that expertise can make such a difference to people’s life and wellbeing.
What a pity if all that potential passes through an area without really engaging with it, and then leaves without leaving a positive legacy that people value and remember.

Delivering social value through public investment may be an expectation, but who decides what represents value? Do you deliver what’s easy, or what people really need? And how do you know the difference?

If you’re really committed to community benefit then you have to engage with those communities surrounded by, or affected by your projects. Get out of your office, get out and about, and listen.

What people tell you might not be something you can easily tick off your list of community programmes. But like everything else, delivering real value means stretching yourself to deliver what people need rather than just what you know how to do.

A ‘disadvantaged group’ isn’t an entity. It’s a collection of individuals with different challenges and different aspirations. Grasping the detail of their needs is the difference between delivering ‘just another employability seminar’, and doing something that changes lives.

There are many community facilities that could be built, repaired or refurbished. Which ones would address a problem the area faces, which ones are used, which ones are really valued? You can’t hope to know this unless you are part of the community.

The scope of the localism agenda is wide. It spans education, employment and skills, access to technology, wealth creation and social investment. It isn’t for us to say which of those are the biggest priorities in any given area.

As an organisation we are committed to giving all of our people time to spend on community programmes. We are also committed to directing resources to improve local facilities and opportunities.

Above all, we want to turn all of that goodwill into good outcomes. For that, we need the help and guidance of the community. After the project has finished we want to be remembered for all the right reasons.

Find out more by visiting Highways learning pages on our website.

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