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Thoughts from the Board – Ollie Saunders

The first ever Freehold event was an informal drink one summer’s evening.  I heard about it from a small article in the property press, and I imagined that there might be a few people nattering over a glass or two.  

That evening there were more than 60 people there – some of whom I had worked with before, and others who had had the same experience of being LGBT in property as I had.  I remember the feeling as the weight lifted from my shoulders.  I was freshly out at work to most people having been in the industry for nearly 18 years – but was still hiding from many.    

I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the Freehold board.  Now, more than 8 years later, I am moving on to different projects and I have been thinking about what I have learned.

How to Get Stuff Done

It is quite simple.  Find a group of like-minded, but different, people who get along with each other, with a shared aim, and there is instant energy – which led to the momentum that helped real estate change.   We also had tons of fun along the way …    

Challenge Yourself

In the early days, I was nervous about how we approach employers and get change done.   It was certainly outside my comfort zone, but the more we did it (and with the support of Freeholders), the more I got comfortable about it.   As my confidence grew, I was happy to challenge others – from clients, to colleagues, to HR directors – in a positive way. 

Sometimes it frustrated me that they felt that they were already doing enough for “the gays” but we could see the change happening. 

Listen and Learn

As Freehold grew, I met so many people from different parts of the property industry and with different backgrounds to me – with different views on life and our profession.  

I was part of the mentoring programme, as a mentor, and talking with them – and listening to them – made me learn loads about people and the human spirit.    I am now being reverse mentored, and it is eye-opening!

I have spent more time recently listening and learning about the trans community.  I remember going to “Trans in the City” and hearing that 50% of all trans people had attempted suicide.  It shocked me – what I had experienced as a gay man was nothing compared to the trans community.

Get Support

“You are very welcome” – four important words from Louise Brooke-Smith who, as president of the RICS, invited Freehold to the Great George Street headquarters.   I had never imagined the RICS President would have said that.

Reading positive stories in the property press about LGBT people was incredible.   We had a full section in Estates Gazette at one of our first Pride events in London – and they even made a video, as well as giving Freehold the “Outstanding Achievement Award.”

The feeling was nearly as incredible as the one when we walked down Regent Street with more than 100 fellow Freeholders!

We also got support and help from Chris Edwards who was at Stonewall. Invaluable advice and support which set us off on the right footing.

All this support gave us huge visibility and a topic of conversation in the industry.

Beyond Gay 

Diversity is hard fought and easily lost, but I am proud that Freehold has made a difference to many.  Having more people join the Freehold board has been fantastic and energising for the group.  We will be seeing some great new ideas and changes in the property industry as a result of that.

Property is a great industry but I genuinely feel that the industry will be less relevant if we don’t work even harder to bring in different people, from different backgrounds, and with different skills to make sure that we have the best built environment possible.

Thanks to Freehold, I am more comfortable to challenge the status quo and I can safely say that going to those drinks that summer evening changed my life.

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