EngageOnline: Securing planning permission for Unilever’s new global headquarters



The Challenge

How do you deliver a meaningful public consultation despite COVID-19 restrictions?

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames to house Unilever’s new global headquarters, bringing with it 2,000 jobs, long term economic and community benefits. But being situated in an historic town with influential community and residential organisations meant gaining planning permission would not be easy. We needed to deliver a meaningful public consultation despite COVID-19 pausing all face-to-face activity.

The Solution

Appealing to key local stakeholders through online engagement…

The public engagement for this development took place entirely online through EngageOnline, Grayling Engage’s fully customisable and flexible virtual platform, on behalf of developer Cube Real Estate.

The plans for the site were designed in partnership with local people. Through exhibition boards and feedback forms on the website, the public could find out about the plans and share their views. Despite face-to-face events not being possible, a live chat function enabled residents to speak directly to the project team and ask questions virtually. We made sure all residents were reached through highly targeted social media advertising, distributing over 2,500 leaflets and adverts in the local press.

Throughout the design process, digital meetings were held with key local stakeholders including the University, Kingston Chamber of Commerce, Kingston First, the town’s Business Improvement District, and local politicians, receiving letters of support from the University and both business groups.

The Results

Despite the global pandemic pausing traditional engagement, Kingston Council approved the plans for Unilever’s new global headquarters in March 2021. As well as bringing local jobs, the plans will regenerate an underused and largely vacant site into an attractive, accessible campus with residential buildings and landscaped gardens for all local people to enjoy.

people reached through engagement activity

consultation responses received, with over 50% supporting the plans in principle