Local net zero pioneer aims to be part of something bigger

What does it take for an SME leader to become a Net Zero champion? Who better to ask than Helen Shellabear, Managing Director of Shellwin Real Estate, a business which specialises in office and industrial properties in the Thames Valley.

A steadfast friend and advocate of our work here at Buckinghamshire Business First (BBF), Helen is a leader who has transformed her family-owned enterprise into an exemplar of sustainable practice. An early adopter of our Net Zero programme, Helen was one of the first in the area to calculate her company’s carbon footprint with us and was quick to use Low Carbon Workspaces grants to help finance improvements in her properties.

A firm believer in the importance of being #PartOfSomethingBigger, Helen is a vocal supporter of young people, giving her time and energy to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs.

So what sets Helen and Shellwin apart?

A new approach to real estate

It starts with Helen’s attitude to her core business – managing and renting out properties. While understanding the importance of delivering profits, Helen wants to do so in a way which grows the pie for everyone. “Gone are the days where landlords can just hand over a lease and rent invoice and then hide in the shadows,” she says.

Dissatisfied with the traditional landlord-tenant dynamic and the detached approach of some 'hands off' asset owners, Shellwin is pioneering a new model of property management that seeks to foster more meaningful relationships with, and between, occupiers, as well as the wider community. “We want to be the positive friendly face of workspaces locally,” says Helen.

In part, this means encouraging tenant businesses to link up and find ways of growing together. She quotes as an example two businesses based in their Bourne End facility, an electrical contractor and an electric vehicle charging point manufacturer who are now happily working together in the private sector. “We make those introductions so people can benefit off each other. We want to build a community of businesses here," Helen explains.

But Shellwin Real Estate also wants to have a broader social impact, supporting local charitable initiatives and sponsoring the annual Bourne End High Street Christmas Fun Night, as well as opening a café on their business park to the wider public.

Many ways to make an impact

By her own admission, Helen is “very conscious of my impact on the environment.” Back in 2021, Shellwin participated in the Low Carbon Workspaces scheme, replacing windows and doors with thermally efficient alternatives, as well as installing better insulation and LED lighting.

Their next project involves the installation of solar panels on the roof of one of their buildings, which Helen believes will reduce their kilowatt-hour (kWh) drawdown from the national grid by 60%, once operational. That equates to a 34% reduction in their overall carbon emissions for that building.

Once that’s up and running, Helen plans to address the “pain point” of their waste suppliers, who she finds can make claims about ‘zero to landfill’ which don’t always stand up to scrutiny.

Sharing knowledge and growth opportunities

What’s notable about Helen Shellabear is how much time she puts aside to encourage others to act on sustainability. In 2023, she spoke at a Net Zero MK event in Milton Keynes to encourage local SMEs to measure their carbon footprint, describing her own experiences with the carbon calculator.

“Getting involved with BBF was an absolute game changer for us because they’re so focused on SMEs. I researched carbon calculators, and a lot of that software is so expensive. That’s fine for big companies who can take subscription after subscription without even noticing, but that doesn't work for a small local business. BBF supplied a solution that was affordable. Without them, we wouldn’t have got as far.”

A commitment to young people

Helen and Shellwin Real Estate take the same proactive approach to their ongoing commitment to young people. In 2023, Helen got involved with the Bucks Skills Hub's Green Schools Challenge, offering three months of mentorship to sixth formers at Bucks College Group. Competing with other schools in a Dragons Den-style business challenge, her team proposed a combined café and bike mechanics workshop that would teach students how to repair their own bicycles.

“I've only ever seen positive outputs from mentoring young people," says Helen. “For all those people that sit there and moan about Gen Z or X, life's tough for them. Get out there and help them is the way I look at it.”