President’s Column: A look back at an extraordinary year

In his final Modus column, the outgoing President reflects on the whirlwind of the past 12 months, and how admirably RICS professionals have coped in the strangest of times


  • Timothy Neal FRICS

04 December 2020

In my final Modus column, as I reflect on my year as President, it is impossible not to look back at the sheer speed and scale of the change we have seen, and the resilience and adaptability our profession has shown.

When I spoke at my inauguration 12 months ago, the need to adapt to ever faster change was already a central theme for both RICS and the profession. This required understanding, and responding to, the megatrends and drivers of change – whether climate change, population growth, urbanisation or social injustice and inequality. Sustainability was – and remains – a vital unifying theme.

We needed an urgent shift organisationally and collectively as a profession to realise the importance of sustainable practices in the built and natural environment: working together, in ever more sustainable ways, to protect and conserve the planet for future generations. After all, what better way could there be for RICS professionals to live out their charter commitment to “act for public advantage”?   

And what have we seen since then? A global pandemic with human and economic impacts on a scale unseen in our lifetimes. There has been much suffering, loss and hardships caused by COVID-19 across society. We all know, care for and support those who have been directly impacted. Yet we as an organisation and profession have responded rapidly to the trends the pandemic is accelerating and the challenges it has brought – and continue to do so.

The accelerated shift to digital-first working has seen us embrace new and innovative virtual events where physical meetings were the norm. Whether attending and participating in WBEF webinars and podcasts, digital conferences, virtual Welcome to the Profession Ceremonies or Governing Council meetings and working groups, my experience as President has mirrored that of the wider profession.

We have spent more time physically separated and apart, yet are perhaps more connected, together and aligned than ever before. It is no coincidence that the WBEF community now numbers more than 19,000 members as we increasingly share our insights, learnings and best practice digitally.

The energy and focus that has flowed through the governance bodies, boards, committees of executives, staff and the membership has been a thrill to witness and be part of. You have achieved so much in the most difficult of times. We have continued to grow the profession, with more than 2,200 assessments taking place digitally in the last year.

Professional development has continued, ensuring our profession is equipped to deal with current and future challenges – and indeed, collectively, more than 40,000 members took advantage of the CPD training and events that RICS made available at no charge over the summer.

Trusted, perhaps more than ever, by the public, governments and stakeholders, it has been a pleasure to see the organisation helping RICS professionals and society cope and perform in these strange times. Whether it be through timely guides to valuation approaches or re-opening buildings during COVID-19, working with governments to create clarity for RICS professionals, creating new support materials for APC candidates and assessors, or the digital launch of Modus and Journals – there are so many areas of refreshed and re-energised help and support.

As my time as President comes to a close, I would like to say a huge thank you to the Governing Council, those in regional and governance board, as well as the executive team and staff, for all you have done to support the profession.

“We have spent more time physically separated and apart, yet are perhaps more connected, together and aligned than ever before”

Finally, I want to thank you, our professionals. You have shown admirable resilience, grappling with the impacts of these accelerated and compressed timescale shifts in workload, and challenge. At times like this, your professionalism matters more than ever, and you have focused on being agile, adaptive, productive, and delivering much needed confidence to your clients and to society.

As I look ahead, I see a trusted professional body that is shaping up well for inclusive change, development and growth. And I see an organisation that will be more securely positioned to weather the challenges of the pandemic, and better positioned to develop and respond creatively to the opportunities of the future. Not least of these is the need to build back better.

The pre-pandemic importance of sustainability has not diminished. The world needs our collective help to develop and adapt how we work in the built and natural environment, into ever more sustainable, low-carbonways of working, enabling us to live well in safe, healthy, life enriching ways. Our profession will have a pivotal role in affecting this positive change.

I wish you all the best in the future, and I would especially like to wish the best of luck to the new President, Kath Fontana, for the year ahead. 

“At times like this, your professionalism matters more than ever, and you have focused on being agile, adaptive and productive”