“Our aim is to provide sport and high quality housing to the areas and estates that need them the most,” says Rio Ferdinand, former Manchester United and England captain. “We’re going to try to empower the young people – the next generation – by using sport. That’s what we’ve committed ourselves to.”
Ferdinand is describing the unique urban regeneration model he’s looking to introduce across the UK, designed to use physical activity as a way to breathe new life into communities. Combining sports and leisure facilities with residential and community spaces, the idea is to build entirely new residential developments and to mix high-quality social housing with privately-owned homes and sports facilities .
While there is nothing unusual in incorporating private and social housing within a development, there are two aspects that make Ferdinand’s model unique. One is the central role that sport will play in the projects and the other is the high proportion of space reserved for social and affordable housing – up to 45 per cent of the total residential element in any location.
To drive his vision, Ferdinand has set up a charity called The Legacy Foundation (TLF) with two other footballers – West Ham captain Mark Noble and former England International and Brighton striker Bobby Zamora. The trio has already gathered a number of impressive partners for the project – insurance giant Aviva, construction group McLaren and property experts Colliers International – and is in now in advanced talks with a number of local councils to turn the vision into a reality.
The foundation’s model is based on delivering schemes without local authorities needing to finance the construction costs, while still giving them full control of the schemes once they’re completed.
This is achieved by the project’s funding model. The freehold of each project will be owned by the local authority and private investors are invited to buy leaseholds (of around 45 years) for the residential element. During the term of the lease, tenants pay rent to the local authority, with a proportion of it going back to the investor – providing a revenue stream for both.
After the leases expire, the private sector investors give up the leasehold, leaving the local authority with the full ownership of the site. The local authority can then retain the asset and continue to have an income stream – or, if it so wishes, can trigger the right to buy and sell the units.
At the heart of each TLF project will be a wide range of high-quality sports facilities, each catering for the community’s exact needs. According to Ferdinand, the three footballers – who all grew up in “tough environments” – will not only ensure that the sporting element will be central to TLF projects, but also that their own, first-hand experience will be utilised when it comes to deciding the type of facilities needed.
“We all come from similar backgrounds – growing up on estates,” says Ferdinand. “We recognise that the kids living in estates need to have people they can look up to and be inspired by – we’re hoping to provide that.”
Zamora believes that sport is the one factor that can be the difference between a thriving community and a group of people merely living close to each other. “Sport can be a unifying force,” he says.
“I grew up in east London and I used to come home from school, go straight outside and play football. We had a youth facility at the end of the road and it was such a good place to be. There was stuff to do, an unbelievable indoor basketball court and mentors who were there to help you out.
“That’s something we envision our Legacy sites will have – a place where everyone can go and be as one.”
TLF is currently in advanced talks with Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) to build its first site. Working together with the council, TLF has identified a 22-hectare site in Kingsland, north of the town of Houghton Regis – one of most underprivileged areas in the UK. CBC owns the land on a 125-year lease from the Department of Education and architects Hawkins\Brown have already designed the masterplan for the site.
As well as 1,300 homes, the £400m (US$488.6m, €448.6m) plans include a sports hub and leisure centre, swimming pool, football pitches, a health centre, a new education campus, a subsidised creche and large, open green spaces.
Zamora says it is important that the sports facilities provided are diverse and reflect the local population. “There will be a range of sports – not just football,” he says. “Some might expect the projects to be heavy on football because we’re involved, but we realise that many people aren’t interested in that particular game.
“When we went to Central Bedfordshire we talked to a lot of kids. There’s a girl there who runs for England. She drives for an hour because that’s the closest athletics track to where she lives in Houghton Regis.
“It’s people like that we want to provide facilities for. Even if it’s a 100m track, we’ll try to put that down. There’ll be multi-sports facilities, a leisure centre on site, a swimming pool – lots of sports will be included.”
Ferdinand adds that the most crucial aspect of the Bedfordshire project has now been secured. “The funding is in place via institutional funds and private equity, so we’re up and running,” Ferdinand says. “We aim to start on site in early 2017 and to be delivering our first homes within a year.”
The trio says that Kingsland will be a “great example” of the type of development TLF wants to roll out to key locations across the UK – and their sights are set on London.
“We’ve been speaking to the likes of Newham Council and London Borough of Barking and Dagenham,” Ferdinand reveals. “It’s going well but it takes time. I’m from Southwark and I want a TLF project there. I’d be so disappointed if it didn’t happen.”
It is clear that, despite achieving so much in his footballing years – 17 major titles – Ferdinand feels he has found another calling.
“We’re currently known as footballers, but I don’t want to be known as ‘just a footballer’ for the rest of my life,” he says.
“I want to do something that my family and friends – and especially my children – will look back at and say ‘you know what, he did something for the community – he created something sustainable and helped people in those communities’. And this, The Legacy Foundation, is a great way of achieving that.”