These are interesting times for London’s commercial landlords


These are interesting times for London’s commercial landlords; don’t get them started on Brexit and the fate of the high street.

Nevertheless, cheap international money is creating ever more monster towers, now breeding right along Bishopsgate and down to the Isle of Dogs. This is London: always changing and always growing.

So, what has this brave new chrome and glass world got to do with the Capital’s worthy, slightly scuffed, overworked and underpaid non-profits?

Could we be the next interesting new tenant market for enlightened commercial landlords looking to offer diverse workplaces?

Perhaps another question is are the Capital’s non-profits ready to start a grown-up conversation?

My organisation, the Ethical Property Foundation, has published new research about London’s voluntary sector.

Based on our bi-annual Charity Property Matters Survey which we have run since 2012 with the Charity Commission, this study, funded by City Bridge Trust, reveals that significantly more non-profits in London rent from commercial landlords compared to other regions of England and Wales – 40% in London compared to 33% elsewhere.

This underlines the hastening retreat of London’s boroughs as the default sector landlord, with former charity premises now being sold or redeveloped.

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Property is incredibly important to non-profits, even if it is of little interest to people in the sector.

After all, almost all charitable endeavour is planned, administered and usually delivered in buildings, mainly offices.

The fact that 24% of charities who responded to our survey state they are in unsuitable premises is a real obstacle.

Additionally, 22% find difficulty in sourcing suitable, affordable premises, while only 33% anticipate they will. Over half (58%) of London charities indicate that property issues are a medium-to-high risk barrier to delivering their charitable objectives.

The message to non-profits is that they are going to have to be much more property savvy to survive. We pay more as a percentage of income than elsewhere in the UK: accounting for over 20% of total expenditure for 16.5% of our respondents.

And yet, perversely, levels of property knowledge among London based non-profits are low, challenging given they will be increasingly renting from commercial landlords.

So, 68% in our survey do not have a strategic property plan while 51% have no-one with appropriate knowledge specifically responsible for property within their organisation (9% higher compared to the rest of England and Wales).

So what is to be done? The big need is for more property education for London’s non-profits; and for landlords to start contributing to a new conversation.

The Ethical Property Foundation has been providing expert property advice to non-profits in London since 2004.

This year we are offering free property workshops, generously funded by City Bridge Trust, and affordable Property Health Checks for non-profit tenants to ensure the rental experience works smoothly. Last week the City of London Corporation announced that as a responsible landlord it will offer our Property Health Checks to all new charity tenants.

We look forward to working with other London landlords who wish to engage effectively with a sector which, one must remember, in London comprises 24,500 organisations, which spend £20.3billion annually – with rent one of the largest items after salaries.

As a sector, we are moving on from local authority landlords and need far greater strategic engagement with London’s commercial property sector, from the perspective of a growing client group with often complex and distinct needs.

The future could be commercial collaboration. Last year, City Law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite launched the 4,000ft Charity Hub on the first floor of their new Queen Street Place offices in partnership with social enterprise workspace provider Can Mezzanine.

This offers non-profits open-plan office desk space on long or short licenses, as well as a collaborative environment with top of the range facilities, conference rooms and a spectacular roof terrace.

Next stop Bishopsgate? Could similar partnerships happen across the City – as the supply of space increases and demand flatlines? It could be a fascinating conversation for commercial landlords. Why not? We are not going anywhere.

The challenge, of course, is not chrome, bricks and mortar, it is words, because as we know, here are two sectors who speak a very different language.