From The Body Shop to Landsec U+I: Martyn Evans is a creative hiding in plain sight


Andrew Teacher meets Martyn Evans, one of the property industry’s best-known creative forces, to discuss his remarkable journey from The Body Shop to Landsec U+I. In a hard-hitting interview, he opens up about overcoming his own personal challenges and how he channels the spirit of Dame Anita Roddick into each and every day.

This year, Landsec celebrates its 80th birthday. Martyn Evans, creative director at Landsec U+I, who joined the business when the FTSE 100 firm acquired U+I in 2021, is playing a central role in some of the game-changing regeneration schemes that the REIT, reinvigorated under the leadership of Mark Allan, is undertaking.

In Evans’s words, Landsec is: “A business that has a huge portfolio that impacts on 100 million people every year. A business that does today what it did in 1944… to seek opportunity to regenerate places that were in trouble.” For Evans, the purpose of Landsec remains the same now as it was then, “just at a different scale and in a different world and with different levers to pull.”

The Landsec U+I creative director has an enviable pedigree in real estate and is best known for his élan in creative approaches to regeneration projects, deployed on schemes including the Deptford Project Café, a converted train carriage, and the MVMT Café in Greenwich.

In his early career, Evans established a nous for being customer-centric.  Working closely with Anita and Gordon Roddick in the Body Shop’s US expansion in the 1990s was “an immense privilege.”  For Evans, it cemented his ethos of “wanting to work for a company that cared about what it did very much”, including customers, the planet and its suppliers, while also turning over a profit.

Evans’s first opportunity to apply his experiences to real estate came through meeting Ofer Zeloof, owner of the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane.  Close to the commercial hive of Broadgate, and a rundown district in the East End, the area was hardly considered a potential retail hub at the time.  Financial constraints in redeveloping the 11-acre site meant the team there were unable to “just pull the whole thing down and do a master plan… and rebuild it.”  Instead, they worked with the constraints, deploying strategies that are now much more commonplace today: meanwhile use for retailers, turnover rents, and activation through event spaces, art galleries and hospitality.

Perhaps the reason this approach surfaced is because, by Evans’s own admission, he has always brought his whole self to work.  Evans’s outlook is informed by influences as eclectic as The Smiths, Jane Jacobs, Bauhaus, the Pet Shop Boys and his long-time colleague Richard Upton.  As Evans puts it, “everything I have had the pleasure to learn as I’ve grown, mostly from culture, has impacted on the way I do my job.”

U+I was formed through the merger of Development Securities and Cathedral Group in 2014.  Real estate giant Landsec acquired U+I in 2021 to combine its development expertise with the major regeneration and placemaking chops of U+I in London and core cities like Manchester.  Apart from a sojourn as Development Director at the 1,200-acre Dartington Hall in Devon, close to where he spent childhood years, Martyn Evans has been with Cathedral/U+I for more than two decades. Originally intended as a sabbatical, Evans could not resist the challenge to join a team charged with saving the financially-troubled Devon estate, once home to an art centre established by philanthropist Dorothy Whitney.

For Evans, Landsec U+I’s formation was a response to the need for successful real estate development to take into account how “messy” modern life is for many people as they navigate their roles of carer, parent, professional, student and otherwise. As Evans puts it, gone are the days where a real estate developer solely needs to “understand how very well to put one brick on top of another and some glass and steel in between and keep the roof from leaking and the heating on and the lights on and collect the rents and see yourself as a successful business.”

Instead, the challenge facing developers now is making the urban make sense. “Peoples’ lives are difficult and complex” as “all of life happens in or around property”, says Evans, and to him that means “if you’re going to succeed in our business, you have to understand the people for whom we do our job.”

Evans’s journey into the corporate machinery of listed real estate is as unlikely as it is remarkable. The stereotype of the real estate professional at the inception of Evans’s career was not that of a young gay man originally from a village in South Wales. Evans’ early life informs his conviction that considering people’s needs extends beyond the development process toward company culture and inclusivity.  For Evans, “what’s important is that everybody who comes together in a workplace has a very different experience of life than you.”

Now, Evans and colleagues are turning their heads to large-scale regeneration schemes of the likes of Mayfield in Manchester and the future of Media City, a joint venture with Peel in Salford. Mayfield will, over the next 10 years, deliver 2,000 homes, and 2m sq ft of commercial space across 24 acres. In Salford there is an opportunity to revitalise the UK’s most successful media quarter, currently home to creative, tech and digital companies including ITV and BBC, and bring a new living hub for culture, retail and leisure. Landsec U+I has further plans at the 120-acre site at Hartree in North West Cambridge and the revitalisation of existing Landsec retail assets at Lewisham Town Centre and Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow.

 

 

Participants

Martyn Evans

Creative Director

Landsec U+I

Andrew Teacher

Senior Advisor to Montfort

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