Shannon Conway, co-founder, Picture This, on the importance of place, property trends, and which region has the best local authority.

“When we start looking for our next home, we choose the place first. We choose a location which is convenient to our day-to-day needs. We want to feel safe and secure." Continuing our current Property Outlook editorial and event focus with a dedicated interview, Shannon Conway, co-founder, Picture This reminds us that property is only as good as the place it resides.

Shannon's career is one we've followed intently. From eight-years as national director - residential advisory (North) at JLL, to four-plus-years as residential director at Glenbrook and now co-founder at Picture This - a new venture which sees Shannon and co-founder Mike Nicholson collaborate with a "handful of trusted developers and contractors, all of whom have integrity and a strong track record of delivery" to respond to development opportunities, with a twist. As well as aiming to design, deliver and manage ten Picture This communities over the next 10 years, the Picture This team will remain involved in every project for a 10 further years following completion.

A clear common theme runs throughout all of Shannon's professional endeavours, and that's a focus on people. Those at the heart of the property sector. Those that will call the developments she works on 'home'. And the local business owners that support and nurture their surrounding communities.

At Picture This, every aspect of the duo's approach to development is "about supporting the things that matter" – from low carbon design and homes designed to promote health and happiness, to standing beside local businesses, and bringing community to the fore. "We’re in it for the long haul and the common good" the website proudly states.

Now over a year in, we sat down with Shannon to see how the Picture This mission is going so far.

Can you please talk us through your professional background?

“I am a Chartered Surveyor who has always focused on large scale urban residential projects. For 15 years I worked in consultancy advising developers, funders, and the public sector, before moving ‘client-side’ to work for a BTR developer in 2019.”

Why property?

“In 2004, whilst counting down the weeks until I was due to fly to Japan to teach English, I took a two-week temping job in a surveying practice. I couldn’t believe a career existed where you were able to influence how a city could change and adapt. From that moment I was absolutely determined to find a way to become a Chartered Surveyor.

“I postponed Japan, begged for an admin role at an estate agency, and enrolled on a distance learning surveying course. I stayed with that company (JLL) for 15 years. I had a brilliant time, feeling fully supported to explore new residential sectors and markets. I finally got to Japan in 2016, for a three-week tour, when I was 7 months pregnant!”

Last year you co-founded Picture This – with the mission of designing, delivering, and managing ten communities in the next 10 years – tell us more

“Picture This is a developer and operator of rental communities. It is the culmination of 20 years’ experience and observations of the residential rental sector. By being the developer and key decision maker, we have autonomy to shape our developments by spending time understanding what the customer wants. We really believe in our approach, so much so we will remain involved in the management of the homes for at least ten years after we have built them.”

Picture This Stockport

Picture This Stockport

What’s the importance of placemaking?

“When we start looking for our next home, we choose the place first. We choose a location which is convenient to our day-to-day needs (proximity to work/school/friends & family/public transport/amenities). We want to feel safe and secure. We want the comfort that it will not change significantly in the coming years, but if it does, it will be for the better, not worse. We will look at the people living in the area and decide if we would fit in. Are there opportunities to make friends, join clubs, volunteer? If these things are key to our customers’ decision making, they need to be key to us too.”

Do you work predominantly in the north west or on a national or international level?

“We are working on sites across the UK. When it comes to selecting a place to work in, we have a list of key metrics with public transport, opportunities for active travel and an ambitious and supportive local authority topping the list.”

You work with partners that share your values, and in previous roles have worked alongside developers, local authorities, and investors – how important is collaboration?

“Collaboration is absolutely key. By collaborating with development partners, local authorities and place-based impact investors we are able to look at larger regeneration projects where we can make a real difference. We also know there’s a wealth of expertise amongst the project team and we are keen to harness it.

“At the start of each project we share the key values that underpin every Picture This development - Inclusive Design, Low Energy, Neighbourhood Values. These values are referred back to at every stage of the process.”

As well as being co-founder at Picture This, you’re also director at Women in Property – how does one role support the other?

“The Women in Property network delivers on many different levels. For me it is a support network, where I can speak to other women in a similar role or stage in life. At other times, it has been a great source of CPD, or a wealth of personal development resource. I’d encourage women to engage with the network and find out how it could work for them.”

What’s the current property outlook in the north west?

“The north west is lucky to have some of the most forward thinking, collaborative Local Authorities in the UK. We also have some of the best Universities and, in comparison with some cities in other regions, we are well served by good rail connections.

“Leadership, good transport links and education form a solid bedrock in a fluctuating market. These staples attract employers, which in turn attracts new residents and further investment.”

Is Manchester’s star still on the rise when it comes to investment? “Yes”.

Which other cities are investment hotspots – either in the UK or overseas?

“Most investors continue to look for opportunities in the key regional cities: Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Bristol. We’re also looking at some of the towns that feed into these major employment hubs, as well other great cities across the UK.”

Are there any particular property trends you’re seeing?

“In residential, there is a lot of interest in investment into housing estates with homes for rent (Single Family Housing), as well as the Co-Living sector. Community-led housing is finally getting some traction too which is interesting.”

Do you have any particular bugbears when it comes to working in the property sector?

“Too many to mention (!) which is why we needed to set up Picture This. Development is hard and it’s very easy to criticise, so rather than hypothesise about how things could be better, we’re determined to lead by example.”

What’s next for Picture This?

“We’re on track to deliver ten Picture This communities over the next decade. Picture This Stockport (250 apartments) will be going in for planning later this year. We aim to have another two Picture This schemes identified by the end of 2024. There’s also a Picture This podcast in production (kindly supported by Material Source) which allows us to give a soapbox to experts working on great projects on the fringes of development.”

Want to hear more from Shannon? Give her episode of 42 Roles in the Built Environment a listen here.