Article of the week: Real estate matters
5 February 2022
Territorial Property Director Peter Grant tells Salvationist about himself, his role and the work of the Property Department
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN THIS ROLE?
I became territorial property director on an interim basis early last year, then went through a formal process to be appointed on a permanent basis. I was thrilled to be made permanent at the beginning of November.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE THAT?
I am a chartered surveyor and have worked on the client side for property occupiers throughout my career – initially in the retail sector with Allied Carpets and B&Q, then in the office sector with HMRC and insurance company Aviva. I have led property teams at director level for about 25 years, and with Aviva I was responsible for strategy for all their offices globally, making sure they had the right space for employees to do their work.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO WORK FOR THE ARMY?
I have primarily worked in organisations that were highly focused on profit generation – driving financial gain for shareholders and board members’ bonus schemes. That’s fine to a degree, and it’s true that I have enjoyed a few bonuses along the way too. However, this objective alone became less of a motivator for me personally. I developed a growing desire to work for an organisation with which I could have a strong connection. It wasn’t necessarily going to be faith-based, it could have been socially based, but it needed to be more than just a job. I am a member and trustee of King’s Community Church in Southampton. My Christian faith and restlessness with the commercial world were catalysts to my change in mindset.
When this role came up I didn’t initially know it was with The Salvation Army because the headhunter who sent me the details didn’t identify the employer. The work itself looked interesting, in terms of the breadth and diversity of the portfolio. When I did establish it was The Salvation Army I became very excited about the opportunity particularly as I had only recently finished reading GS Railton’s biography of William Booth.
The chance to apply my experiences and expertise gathered over many years for a far greater purpose is hugely motivational. There can’t be anything bigger than working for an organisation that is seeking to further God’s Kingdom and relieve human suffering.
WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE INVOLVE?
I am accountable for the territory’s property team, which covers all aspects of property: acquisition, construction, fit-out, operational maintenance and disposal. The team provides property expertise across approximately 3,000 properties, including headquarters, corps halls, charity shops, Lifehouses, care homes, officers’ quarters, retired officers’ houses, William Booth College and Hadleigh Farm.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
The portfolio is vast and diverse, having been acquired over a period of more than 150 years. Some of the older properties require significant attention owing to their age and the inevitable need for renewal of certain parts. Property by its nature is subject to a variety of regulations and laws designed to ensure that it is safe for use and occupation. These cover not only compliance of the building and assets but also how works are conducted on site. Unfortunately, the construction industry is one in which accidents can and do happen – hence the regulations. One of our challenges is therefore to ensure we fully comply with regulations and also support local mission flourishing.
HOW DID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AFFECT THE PROPERTY TEAM?
It was a big challenge. About 90 per cent of the team were furloughed early on. The Army was concerned about the cost implication of the pandemic, and furloughing people was a response to that. As a result we have a large number of projects that have been delayed and it will remain a challenge to clear the backlog for a while to come. Some maintenance work by contractors was possible, but not in quite the same way or with the same speed. So that has had an impact on us. In the same way that we’ve seen shortages on supermarket shelves, building materials and labour costs are going up because of supply issues.
HOW WELL DOES THE ARMY’S PROPERTY SUPPORT MISSION?
The answer varies based on the missional requirements for each site. The strategic challenge we face is to optimise our properties, first and foremost in relation to supporting mission. However, some buildings are no longer really fit for purpose and these merit review.
The aim is to identify whether we could make better use of them, relocate them or even dispose of the asset and thereby recycle the proceeds into supporting mission differently.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS?
Global warming and the consumption of the Earth’s finite resources are wellknown issues. ‘To care for creation’ is part of The Salvation Army’s mission. Property by its nature consumes a vast amount of energy in relation to heating and lighting, but also construction materials. Steel, glass and concrete all require huge amounts of energy in their production. We therefore need to develop a strategy that reduces our consumption via energy-saving initiatives, introducing micro generation but also adapting building design. With this in mind we are recruiting a sustainability manager to help develop our strategy towards a ‘net zero carbon’ position.
WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN THE PROPERTY DEPARTMENT?
The team are talented and want to do the very best they can, but they are sometimes prevented from doing so due to processes or resource constraints. I am leading a transformation programme within the team, which we have called ‘Making It Easier’. Property will never be easy but I do believe it can be made easier for our customers and also those in the team. As part of this programme we have reset the Property Department’s vision as: ‘To deliver the right property solutions at the right time at the right cost, delighting our customers and enabling mission to flourish.’
As you can imagine, there has been lots of debate among team members concerning the aspiration to ‘delight’ our customers. Indeed, this is very much an aspiration as we don’t yet have as many delighted customers as we would wish. The word does, however, signpost our desire to do more than just meet requirements.
The ‘Making It Easier’ plan is extensive and includes redesigning our structure into key delivery streams. It is an ambitious plan, which will take time to deliver, but the team and I are committed to its success.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LAND’S END TO JOHN O’ GROATS CYCLING CHALLENGE
Last year my brother, David, and I cycled the length of the South Downs Way (100 miles off-road) in a single day. David is a strong runner and recently completed a 60-mile running event just prior to his 60th birthday. On the back of this he suggested we could cycle from Land’s End to John o’ Groats – almost 1,000 miles. Perhaps thinking he wasn’t really serious, I agreed. Well, he was deadly serious, so we will be setting off on 9 April with the aim of reaching John o’ Groats by 23 April.
Given my new role, we have decided to undertake this challenge to raise funds for The Salvation Army. We would both therefore be grateful to anyone who can sponsor us. People can go to justgiving.com/davepeterlejog2022 to show their support.