Venture Studio from Crisis invests in empty buildings technology company Grand Bequest – as nearly a quarter of a million long-term empty properties lay vacant in England

Venture Studio from Crisis, an extension of the national homelessness charity, has announced its most recent investment to help end homelessness. Grand Bequest, a platform that will enable communities to turn empty buildings into impact investments – and crucially to deliver new social housing at scale –, will receive vital funding from the charity.

The investment comes at a critical time, too, as almost a quarter of a million properties are currently unnecessarily sitting unoccupied for six months or more in England – a figure which has risen from just over 200,000 in 2016. At the same time, the number of households stuck in temporary accommodation – including those with children – is at record levels, now sitting at over 100,000. The need to make best use of vacant properties has never been more urgent, says Crisis.

Grand Bequest, which was founded in 2020 by Dr Katherine Gunderson, uses data analytics, conservation and sustainability to promote the global redevelopment of vacant buildings, and will transform empty and derelict buildings into environmental, social and governance (ESG) impact investments. The company’s target for 2024 is to analyse 100,000 dormant properties for development potential, with 11,000 becoming available as investment opportunities on their platform.

Dr Katherine Gunderson, Founder and CEO of Grand Bequest said: “Buildings are the core of communities. They support our lives, our work and our wellbeing. They represent our culture and history and shape our future. In a climate and housing crisis, too many buildings are empty, or restored one at a time, which means they can’t secure funding at scale and generate value for communities. At Grand Bequest, we make building regeneration a reality on a grand scale by turning empty buildings into impact investments.

“Our platform packages property reuse projects locally and nationally, predicts their end use and impact, and partners local organisations, investors and developers to streamline the regeneration process. These projects deliver returns through homes, jobs and social spaces, driving local economies. Crucially, they transform lives and communities, providing a real impact that we can see today and for years to come. We’re building regeneration for real impact – together.”

From September, Grand Bequest has been confirmed as the next investment of Crisis’ Venture Studio, which is working with, and investing in, start-ups that help end homelessness within our lifetime. Alongside the financial investment, the start-ups receive support from an expert community to help grow sustainably.

Through the Venture Studio, Grand Bequest will be supported with a bespoke growth programme over the next twelve months, including working with the charity’s expert teams who have over 50 years’ experience in ending homelessness, as well as access to a network of public and private sector organisations to help expand and develop the product to best tackle homelessness.

Crucially, the team also work with people with lived experience of homelessness who feed into proposed solutions, ensuring the issues real people are currently facing are addressed.

Reflecting on the recent Venture Studio investment in her business, Dr Katherine Gunderson, Founder of Grand Bequest, said: “Ending homelessness and providing the 4.3 million missing homes from the UK housing market is a complex, multi-faceted issue that requires innovative and collaborative action now.

“And so Grand Bequest is thrilled to announce its partnership with Venture Studio from Crisis and the entire homelessness ecosystem, full of thought-leaders and experts working to provide social and affordable rent-level housing supply. As Scotland’s first PropTech B-Corp, we’re aligned on our mission and see empty buildings as a key way of delivering an entirely new supply of housing to the market.”

Liz Choonara, Executive Director of Commerce and Enterprise at Crisis, said: ”We’re very excited to welcome Katherine and Grand Bequest to the Venture Studio from Crisis portfolio. We know that to end homelessness we need innovative, data-led and truly collaborative solutions that make the most of all available resources. With almost a quarter of a million long-term empty properties in England alone, this couldn’t come at a better time.

“We’re thrilled to be able to back repurposing empty properties as a very real solution to help end homelessness.”

This investment was made possible by philanthropic funds distributed by The Ludlow Trust Company, who have recently made ten grants on behalf of charitable trusts in light of the continued impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

A spokesperson from The Ludlow Trust Company said: “With basic living expenses continuing to outpace household incomes, through key charitable trusts we manage as sole trustee, we are happy to support the Venture Studio from Crisis in its aims to address housing need. We are excited by the potential impact their strategic approach will have on the systemic issues of homelessness, by investing in innovative housing solutions.”

Grand Bequest has already won several prestigious awards including Environmental Impact award at the 2022 UK Proptech Awards and was a CleanTech Finalist in the 2022 AccelerateHER awards with Barclays Eagle Labs.

Venture Studio from Crisis is now actively scouting for their next round of investments that could end homelessness and are welcoming applications from people and companies who want to make a positive impact on the UK housing sector for those who need it most.