13 Sep 2023

“We’re in a crisis and that’s the best time to learn your trade.”

Andrea Carpenter’s keynote speech at our first ever FutureGen conference pulled not a single punch.

The author, director of Diversity Talks Real Estate, and communications consultant told 80 up-and-coming real estate investment professionals that difficult market conditions are likely to be long and drawn out.

She also provided valuable historical context to those who joined the industry after the great financial crisis. The role of U.S. banks and ever-cheaper debt in the 2000s, the divorce between real estate and bond yields, and the frequent eclipse of occupiers in decision making, all played prominent roles in her elegantly spun narrative.

Nurturing the future generation

The arboreal setting of Worcester College, University of Oxford, was an appropriate venue for the AREF FutureGen Conference – sponsored by Carey Olsen. The institution has been a seat of learning since the 13th Century.

Our FutureGen committee hasn’t been around quite as long, but it has an educational remit of raising awareness and engagement with the next generation of real estate professionals in our member firms.

In other words, we help equip those in the first decade of their careers with contacts, opportunities and ideas that will stand them in good stead over the decades to come.

The conference schedule reflected this remit. The event started with dedicated networking sessions before auditorium discussions began.

Cold water on a cool market

Just before Andrea took to the stage, a Slido poll showed that:

  • 57% of delegates believe 2024 will see better performance for UK real estate compared to 2023
  • 28% will see more of the same
  • 15% expect worse performance

Andrea gently poured cold water on this optimism. She said she had recently detected views in the real estate industry that chime with pre-financial crisis thinking – not least around attitudes to higher bond yields. Her words of warning landed on appreciative ears.

But at the same time, she praised the professionalisation of the industry. After all, in little more than a delegate’s lifetime, European real estate moved from a set of hard-to-access domestic markets to an international, regulated investment industry.


She concluded with an exhortation that delegates consider the role of stranded assets – and an assertion that the next crisis will be one of decarbonisation.



Net zero and carbon

The panellists on the session that followed – CBRE UK’s Sam Carson, Patrizia AG’s Mathieu Elshout, and Apeksha Gupta from Greengage Environmental Ltd – took up this theme with gusto.

Moderated by Abrdn’s Frankie Demetriades – incoming AREF FutureGen Committee Vice-chair – our expert panel considered the issues posed by imperfect, incomplete or even absent sustainability data on the journey towards Net Zero. 

But all panellists urged practitioners to look beyond this problem. Not getting hung up on inadequate information, not using poor data as an excuse for inaction and substituting educated guesses for hard facts are all viable options. As Sam Carson quipped, “if it produces smoke, stop it from producing smoke.”

The target is too important to miss.

Lessons from a long and successful career

Identifying such challenges and overcoming them successfully are two very different things.

Octopus Real Estate’s Clare Grimes – our new FurtureGen Chair – discussed such themes with our guest Kevin Aitchison. In a fascinating fireside chat setting, the incoming Chief Executive for Europe at Savill’s Investment Management offered several lessons to delegates.

They included:

  • real estate is a people business
  • making a mistake is fine, making it again less so
  • get to know your clients: go on secondment, get closer to them, understand their businesses
  • you learn more in adversity: because when you’re young enough, adversity will certainly come again 
  • leading in good times is easy, it is less so in hard times 
  • no matter how well you communicate you will never communicate enough
  • every business must play its part in implementing diversity

Kevin’s engaging and personable style proved a hit with attendees, particularly those who sought him out afterwards and at the later dinner for further conversation.

Breakout sessions

Delegates were invited to attend one of three, interactive breakout sessions:

  1. Fund structuring
  2. Asset Management
  3. Capital Raising

Here our FutureGen professionals broke into groups to address hypothetical and real issues – working closely with new contacts in unfamiliar settings.

Then, after closing words from outgoing AREF FutureGen chair Tom Pinnell, came an opportunity to try punting (no one fell in) followed by dinner.


Site visits

Day two saw most of our delegates attend local assets for site visits.

The first was Westgate Shopping Centre, Oxford city centre.

The Centre first opened its doors in 1972 and in those days was owned by Oxford City Coucil. 

The new centre, owned by a joint venture between The Crown Estate and Land Securities opened in October 2017 after years and several rounds of consultation and planning.  It created 3,400 new full-time equivalent jobs and has almost 800,000 square feet (74,000 m2) of retail, restaurant and leisure space including a rooftop dining terrace with views across Oxford's skyline, and a five screen cinema.  It has parking for 1000 bicycles and 1000 cars, including 50 EV charging points (the most in the County).  

The Centre is one of the lowest carbon retail destinations in the country.

Land Securities have cut emissions by installing one of the largest examples of centralised air source heating of its kind in the UK. Using this technology to deliver heating and cooling to shops and restaurants avoids the use of natural gas, keeps costs down for retailers and reduces our reliance on fossil fuels. 

Second came Oxford University’s Life & Mind Building Passivehaus development.

This will be the University of Oxford largest faculty building and the first to be built under LGIM’s JV. The scheme promotes collaboration between different science disciplines (zoology and plant science) and will house the INEOS Institute of Antimicrobial Research.

It aims to significantly improve the way psychological and biological science is undertaken in Oxford, helping scientists to solve major global challenges. The building also has a very high sustainability criteria; built to Passivhaus principles and use of timber framing.

We are very grateful to our conference sponsor, Carey Olsen, the speakers who made the trip out to Oxford, the team at Worcester College, Land Securities for the Westgate tour, LGIM for the Life & Mind tour, our FutureGen committee members who developed the conference, and to Clare Whyte and Mel Ali for making the event happen.

Please check out our FutureGen section for future news and our events page for details of our packed schedule of future conferences, webinars and other events.

Videos & Photos from the Conference

Feedback we've received

"I just wanted to say a massive thank you to you and the team for a fantastic conference. It was great to meet new people to discuss ideas and hear from a range of speakers in a fun environment, I also loved the location of Oxford and the college"


"Just a quick note to say a big thank you for such a great day yesterday. It was brilliant – highlights being Kevin’s fireside chat, punting (being punted..!) in the sun, dinner and Andrea’s opening talk. And what a venue!  There was clearly a lot of hard work that went into it, so thank you. I hope there will be another!"



"Just back from the first AREF FutureGen Conference at the beautiful Worcester College. Huge thank you to those involved in organising such an enjoyable and thought-provoking day. I particularly enjoyed the panel session on "Net Zero Carbon and Existing Buildings" (for anyone who missed my musings earlier this year, here is the link https://lnkd.in/eSRYU6aT) and my first introduction to punting (Disclaimer: I did very little, full credit to William & Stefan who kept us all afloat). Already looking forward to #fgenconf24"

Charlotte, LinkedIN


"It was great to be invited to the AREF FutureGen 2023 conference at Oxford University.
Me and my Alter Domus colleagues spent two days listening to lectures by real estate experts on the future of real estate funds.
I look forward to the conference next year!"

Marc, LinkedIN


The FutureGen Conference 2023 was proudly sponsored by:


David Butcher

David Butcher

Founder, Communications & Content

Communications and Content exists to help investment and financial brands communicate with more imagination, energy and purpose.

David Butcher founded the business in September 2017, because he wanted to distil his long experience and understanding of investment and financial communications into a format that any client could use.

Back in the late 1990s, David was working in media relations with clients such as Citywire.co.uk and Moneysupermarket.com – and rapidly came to realise that the key to effective financial communications is compelling story telling, supported by good quality empirical evidence.

Over a long career, in consultancy and in-house roles, David has evolved this approach across corporate positioning, thought leadership, corporate communications, product communications, content and client communications, including request for proposals.