Social Impact Awards: the UK's best new buildings

These are the winning finalists of the first RICS Social Impact Awards, which recognise and celebrate the projects that have had a direct positive effect on society and the environment


  • Brendon Hooper

25 November 2020

Winner: Student Accommodation

Baird’s Close Two, Edinburgh

Hello Student’s new purpose-built development is an exemplar of student accommodation in Scotland. It gives students a great living experience, as well as uniquely designed social and study areas, all situated within the vibrant Old Town World Heritage Site and a stone’s throw from Edinburgh’s iconic castle. 

Baird’s Close Two anchors a wider masterplan for the former council cleaning and street lighting depot on behalf of Empiric Student Property, Campus Development Management and Peveril Securities by Bowmer & Kirkland, which includes new residential and commercial buildings and a four-star hotel.

The judges said: 

“The Baird’s Close Two project delivers student accommodation on a level not commonly encountered in this country. The judges were witness to a building fitting of its prestigious location, directly overlooked by Edinburgh Castle and on a site steeped in both history and challenges. 

“The project not only delivers accommodation of the highest order, but sensitively brings to life a site that was once of great significance. Socially, this project seems to bring almost equal benefit to the residents as it does to the wider local community.”

Surveyor: Axiom Project Services 
Architect: Fletcher Joseph Associates
Developer/contractor: Peveril Securities and Campus DM
Owner/client: Empiric Student Property

Winner: Leisure

The Oasis Centre and Sandpiper Place, Manchester

The Oasis Centre charity has long provided support to vulnerable people in Gorton, Manchester. However, without a permanent home, the charity was restricted in their work. Five years ago, chartered surveying firm Roger Hannah stepped in to help by first acquiring a derelict bank and an adjoining site from Manchester City Council for just £2. 

Developer One Manchester then constructed 26 new houses, in return for contributing 50% towards the build cost of a new Oasis Centre, which opened in March 2020. The centre will provide a lifeline for thousands of people each year, including families living on benefits, long-term unemployed, asylum seekers and refugees, the homeless, ex-offenders and those struggling with alcohol and drug problems or mental illness.

The judges said:

“This property is at the heart of everyone’s life and plays a central part in local communities. The Oasis Centre is located in one of the most socially deprived areas of the city. The centre works as a meeting point for the severely disadvantaged within the local community.

“This new building will enable the centre to expand the outstanding community work being undertaken by a mainly voluntary team, who have to date been operating from a dilapidated church. The new facility has been provided on the back of public and business donations. The centre worked hand in hand with a local surveying practice to procure and build the new facility.”

Surveyor: Roger Hannah
Architect: Grays Architect
Developer/contractor: Oasis charity/One Manchester
Owner/client: The Oasis Centre

Highly commended: Life Kitchen at the Lodge, Sunderland

Winner: Land & Rural

Humberstone Bank Farm & Beyond Nature, Harrogate

An extensive upland hill farm, Humberstone Bank Farm is pioneering a “beyond nature” approach to sustainable land management, championed by its landowner, Yorkshire Water. 

In practice, this means a range of initiatives are being pursued on the farm to protect the local landscape for future generations, tackle climate change and support sustainable farming. These include building renovation, farm diversification, wildlife habitat enhancement and peat restoration.

The judges said:

“The Upland Hub at Humberstone is an extraordinary example of how a number of partners can collaborate to make the management of land truly beneficial to wider society.  

“Innovative procurement has enabled exemplary engagement with schools and volunteer groups to provide learning opportunities that explain and demonstrate how crucial effective rural land management is to wider issues of food production, climate change, the economy and health, while producing key data that will provide useful evidence that this level of land management works in real terms.”

Surveyor: Yorkshire Water
Architect: Pearce Bottomley LLP (Architect for the Upland Hub)
Developer/contractor: Sangwin (Contractor for Upland Hub)
Owner/client: Humberstone Bank Farm

Highly commended: Sowerby Gateway

Winner: Infrastructure

Shoreham Adur Tidal Walls, Shoreham-by-Sea

This major civil engineering project has strengthened and improved more than 4 miles (7km) of flood defences and helped reduce the risk of flooding to over two thousand residential and commercial properties, Brighton City Airport, and local vital infrastructure such as the A259. 

The Adur estuary includes a nature reserve, conservation areas and a scheduled ancient monument. The project has not only helped protect communities but has also enhanced the environment and is unlocking the regeneration potential that was dependent on improved flood defences.

The judges said:

“The project completion will act as a catalyst to unlock new large-scale commercial development around the airport and 1,000 new homes. 

“Protecting and enhancing local amenities, including walking and cycling areas, the sailing club, 40 moored houseboats, and the project’s significant local group participation were particularly impressive.”

Surveyor: Arcadis UK
Architect: Mott MacDonald
Developer/contractor: Team Van Oord (Mackley)
Owner/client: Environment Agency

Highly commended: Anlaby & East Ella Flood Alleviation Scheme


Winner: Heritage

Winsford Cottage Hospital, Beaworthy, Devon

Built in 1900 by the renowned Arts and Crafts architect CFA Voysey at a time when local people needlessly died of treatable illnesses, the cottage served as a vital small hospital for the community for nearly a century. Although it was rescued by the Winsford Trust, eventually the struggle to cover running costs proved too much. 

Today, the building has been immaculately restored by the Landmark Trust, both as a holiday let and a facility for community use.

The judges said:

“Winsford Cottage Hospital is an exemplary restoration project rooted in community. After closing in the 1990s, a local trust tried to secure its future. When that project stalled it was acquired by the Landmark Trust. The trust has carried out a beautiful restoration, with its Arts and Crafts details restored or recreated where they were lost. 

“One half is a holiday apartment providing the bulk of revenue, and the other half a series of community meeting spaces, workplaces and a museum area. This textbook restoration has allowed the grade II-listed building to continue to serve the community it was built for.”

Surveyor: Stenning & Co
ArchitectBenjamin & Beauchamp Architects
Developer/contractor: JE Stacey
Owner/client: The Landmark Trust

Winner: Healthcare

Stokes Centre for Urology, Guildford

Under an innovative partnership, the Prostate Project charity collaborated with the NHS to create a new-build facility for treating prostate cancer patients. Using £2m of community fundraising, it enabled the NHS facility to be built to a standard akin to that of a private facility. In doing so, the partnership has created a blueprint for how the NHS and charities can collaborate to deliver world-class facilities and care for patients.

The judges said:

“This project has a tremendous human and social impact. The centre treats prostate cancer patients in a newly built clinic. It consolidates specialist services and contains Europe’s largest theatre for brachytherapy, with a cure rate of over 90%. Referrals come from across the UK and internationally.

“The Prostate Project charity provided £2.6m towards the £5.5m cost of the building after many years of fundraising in the local community. The partnership demonstrates how the NHS and charities can combine to provide first-class care for patients.”

Surveyor: K2 Consultancy
Developer/contractor: Logan Construction
Owner/client: Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Prostate Project

Winner: Education

Teesside University Student Life Building, Middlesbrough

The £13.2m Student Life Building provides a new focus for students on Teesside University’s Middlesbrough campus. Supporting the university’s aims to deliver an excellent student experience with wellbeing at its heart, the building has helped the university to restructure its services around the needs of its diverse student community. 

Providing easy access to the full range of services the university offers, the facilities allow students to develop their skills for learning, and for life.

The judges said:

“This is a student-centred and student-led space in which activities, information and initiatives are aimed at supporting students to stay at university and not drop out. This is a significant problem for the university, which attracts a lot of its students from disadvantaged local communities.

“The building provides a technologically enabled environment, supporting a variety of learning styles, activities and attendance patterns. It offers a range of flexible spaces, enabling social and collaborative learning, as well as an information zone, consulting rooms and a cafe.”

Surveyor: Summers-Inman
Architect: FaulknerBrowns Architects
Developer/contractor: Willmott Dixon
Owner/client: Teesside University

Highly commended: Lexden Springs School, Colchester

Winner: Commercial

Here East, London

Opened in 2016, Here East is a vast new creative space situated in the London Olympic Park, dedicated to bringing innovative start-ups together in collaboration. From the start, it had big ambitions to be more than just a stand-alone project. 

Following a huge amount of investment in the social, economic and physical regeneration of the local area through employment, education and enterprise development, now some 4,500 people work and study at Here East, and it attracts more than 50,000 visitors a year.

The judges said:

“Here East’s innovation and technology campus has brought the Olympic media centres back into full and vibrant use, with minimal environmental impact in construction and use. It provides commercial rental space plus affordable workspace for start-ups on flexible leasing terms. 

“The centre collaborates with academic, sports and tech institutions to nurture growth and excellence in e-sports, cybersecurity and creative industries.  By offering mentorships, educational and summer school opportunities, the centre builds community and fulfils an economic and social need in the area.”

Surveyor: Savills
Architect: Hawkins Brown LLP
Developer/contractor: Laing O’Rourke
Owner/client: Delancey

Winner: Residential and Outstanding Contribution to Society

Marmalade Lane, Cambridge

The 42-home development in Cambridge was designed in collaboration with its future residents, enabling them to achieve their dream of a multi-generational cohousing community. Homes are built to high environmental standards using Trivselhus’ closed timber panel system and CLT. The result is a neighbourhood of beautiful, sustainable homes enveloped by a strong sense of community that is having a tangibly positive impact on residents’ lives and the wider locality.

The judges said:

“An inspiring co-housing community, where built environment not only harnesses this ethos, but complements and encourages its growth. Interaction of residents is everywhere. Residents share many facilities, and this not only promotes community, but also frees space within their homes.

“The community does not limit itself to its immediate neighbours but has expanded to embrace the wider community. Supporting others and interaction is at its heart.”

Read about the winning project in full here