Why I’m talking to property people about race

By Eddie Cook, Trustee, the Chancerygate Foundation

In the last few weeks, high profile sporting events have brought into much sharper and more uncomfortable focus what it means to be Black and British. And while many of the behaviours we’ve seen in the mainstream media are at the extreme, they point to an important truth: there are very few, if any, places in our business culture where equality truly exists and diversity thrives.

Clearly, the property sector is no exception. In fact, it is less diverse than the House of Commons. According to the RICS last year, the unacceptable truth is that only 1.6% of RICS professionals in the UK are from Black or minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.

The Chancerygate Foundation was formed at the end of 2020 to play a part in changing this landscape. A not-for-profit charity, we focus on helping young people from BME backgrounds to forge a career in the property sector.

It came as part of Chancerygate’s 25th anniversary celebrations as a result of a long-held view from the company’s Chairman, Andrew Johnson, and his wife Vanzel, and is based on the idea that the best way to increase diversity is through education.

“We started the Foundation with a very clear goal,” he said, “To help as many Black and minority ethnic students as possible to embark on careers in property.

“One of the most challenging barriers faced by Black and minority students leaving university is to find a job. The Chancerygate Foundation helps those students throughout their university experience and mentor them as they take the first steps on the road to a property career.”

Part of its objective is to provide university grants for RICS-accredited courses up to £10,000 to successful applicants; help secure work experience and internships; and offer support and advice about working within the property sector. It has formed alliances with London South Bank University and Kingston University where it will support students studying RICS-accredited courses.

With these bursaries, the aim is to offer more than just money. It’s important, of course, but there’s so much more to supporting students than just handing over a cheque. Our goal is to build a long-term relationship with the Foundation students, providing mentoring and ongoing support, and leveraging our network of contacts to give them the best possible chance of finding work when they graduate.

We’ve just made our first intern appointment too. Andreas Odysseos will join Montagu Evans at the start of September spending time in its commercial, agency and advisory team as well as its property management team as part of a nine-month placement. He will then spend one month at Chancerygate before completing his BSc in Property Finance & Investment at Nottingham Trent University.

Andreas heard about the Foundation through a press release announcing its formation and through his early initiative he approached the Trustees who felt they could help find him a position for him to gain valuable experience in industry during his sandwich course placement year. He said: “I am extremely grateful for the Trustees help and guidance in finding a placement for me. Having the opportunity to learn and gain a working experience with Montagu Evans is something I am really excited about and I look forward to joining the team in September.”

Victoria Thompson, HR Director at Montagu Evans, explains more about what it means to their partnership: “Working with the Chancerygate Foundation is a practical way to make a difference at an individual level.

“It’s not just that the real estate sector needs to better embrace and reflect the society we are here to support. The last year has been incredibly tough on all young people studying and starting out on their careers. They will be having a very different experience to what most of us remember, and with working life beginning to return to normality we’re in a position to make their professional journeys easier.”

Ultimately, a more diverse profession is a more dynamic profession. I believe that greater diversity opens businesses up to new ideas and fresh perspectives. It stops everything being so one-dimensional.

As Trustees, we’re already looking at what else we can do to help students, including after they’ve graduated. Introductions, connections, internships and work placements are already in place for most businesses in our sector. Let’s use them better and create more opportunities for the talented future workforce we know is out there.

We’re not going to fix this issue overnight, but we have to start somewhere. My hope is that over time we’ll build a kind of web of support for greater diversity and inclusion. Our students will hopefully be inspired to go on and give something back themselves, and of course, they’ll provide role models for the next generation.

For more information on the Chancerygate Foundation visit www.chancerygatefoundation.com or contact Foundation Director Amanda Walker.

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