029 Raising the Standards of Built Environment with Gillian Charlesworth

As the CEO of BRE Group, Gillian Charlesworth is responsible for the organisation’s strategy and performance. She works closely with BRE Trustees and the Group Board to define its purpose, vision and long-term goals.

Before joining BRE Group, Gillian was an Executive Director at RICS, where she held a number of roles covering assurance and enforcement of standards, global brand growth and thought leadership. She is passionate about the importance and potential of the built environment in creating sustainable, vibrant and productive life on the planet.

In her earlier career Gillian worked in the UK Civil service and with several professions and industries as a regulator and advocate. She promotes responsible leadership and one of her career highlights was being included in Women of the Future’s inaugural top 50 list of Kind Leaders in 2018.

RICS Experience and RICS Professionals

Gillian starts by giving an overview of her years spent at RICS, and the variety of professionals that are working there.

“When I started working at RICS, I was very taken with working in the property and built environment, construction infrastructure sector. Over that period it has become very apparent that this industry is responsible for huge amounts of economic, social and environmental impact, whether it’s through standard setting, promoting careers in the industry, or driving the sustainability agenda. In my 15 years at RICS I have had a good mix of experience across the regulatory team, the external affairs and policy team, and eventually ended up as the person who led the promotion of RICS brand around the world. It was a great period, and I never thought that I would leave RICS, but another opportunity came along, so a year ago I moved on.”

Marion then raised the question about the importance of having a variety of people within the industry, and a gap that sometimes exists between the world of RICS and the built environment policies, and the jobbing surveyors on the ground, who need to understand how those policies shape their work.  

“There is a whole body of surveyors who work for RICS,” Gillian responds. “They are the essential team within the institution. I see the need for a range of professionals to run a professional institution, besides the generic roles such as finance or HR, as a partnership between the members of the profession and the RSS team who are professionals in influencing our public policy. It’s a little bit like any product and marketing you need. You need the expertise to create the product, but you also need somebody who can translate the important features and benefits of that product for non technical decision makers, and in this case, it’s the government.”

What BRE Is And What It Does

Gillian goes on to explain the background of BRE where she has been the CEO since last year.

“BRE was a government agency until 1997, when it was privatized. However, the industry was very keen to see BRE continue to carry out deep expert scientific research into buildings and building performance, and felt the need for a body which is holding us to account on standards, performance and safety. BRE was turned into a trust, a charitable body that is the owner of the BRE Group, which I’m the Chief Executive of. The purpose of the group is to carry out its activities, but to make a surplus from those activities, which then provides to the trust which continues to carry out the research role.”

“So as a commercial entity, we don’t just do anything to make money. Everything we do is intrinsically part of the purpose of improving the built environment through scientific research, testing standards, certifying buildings and parts of buildings and construction products. We’re providing assurance to the construction sector, the property sector, and the users of buildings across the areas of fire safety, construction, product safety, building security, and parts of construction. And of course we are providing the certification scheme which assesses the sustainable performance of built assets. So it’s very much about improving the built environment, and enhancing performance against sustainability goals, safety, and security.”

What Surveyors Can Do To Be More Sustainable

We wanted to know how surveyors can contribute to the purpose of improving the built environment.

“For those of us who’ve got the time, make an expert contribution to not only the policy development process, but to facilitating the actual planning process, to try and make sure that the professionals are asserting professional values and expertise into the dialogue. I know it’s not easy to do that. It takes time, it’s sometimes rather thankless, fruitless task, but I do think that surveyors know what works. So make sure that you follow the standards that RICS sets and keep up to date with the latest solutions.”

The Women For The Future Network

Gillian has been very active in The Women for the Future network and shares her experience with it.

“RICS has been sponsoring The Women of the future Awards category for the Built Environment Construction Infrastructure Project for six years now. I used to be the person who did the judging for that. As a result of it, we set up a network of all the people who’ve been shortlisted for that award, and it’s proved to be an incredibly good support group. I’m sure every person in there would say they get something out of it. It provided me with the view that one of the best things we can do in terms of supporting women is literally that – provide support and networking. A number of business opportunities come out of that group of people, and we really support each other.”

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