A dramatic title but its true. Since starting with Planning House my life has changed dramatically, not just where I work but how I work and the impact that has had on my family but also what I do and my perspective on planning.
I now work completely flexibly, obviously I need to be responsive to client demand but I am in control of my working week and arrange appointments accordingly. That means I get to do most school drop off and pick-ups, attend playgroups, school meetings and whatever else my young family need me to do. The price I pay is some pretty late nights but it is completely worth it. Feedback from clients is that its working really well, I haven’t met a developer or landowner yet that doesn’t work past 5pm and often in this industry things are urgent so a late night to get the job done is fine by me.
I can only do this because I work for a company that embraces the ‘family first’ ethos and takes a genuinely flexible approach. The director of Planning House completely understands that you do not need to be ‘in your seat’ from 9-5 to do a good job.
It has been a big change working from home, I was warned it could be isolating and lonely but for me it has been the opposite. I have taken every opportunity to network, having worked in Local Authority for all of my career prior to my move to Planning House my first job was to go out and make friends. I didn’t understand how important this job was at the time, having contacts in the industry is great but making friends is infinitely better. This required a bit of an attitude change. In my previous roles I was encouraged to be impartial and networking certainly wasn’t a requirement. It felt very strange the first time I attended a drinks event, I wasn’t at my desk, I had a drink in my hand it didn’t feel like work! Working from home also provides other benefits, no stressful commute and I get to wear my slippers!
The move from public to private sector has been a huge eye opener and I now firmly believe that experience should be gained from both sides as I think it would be of huge benefit to the system and make for better rounded planners. All too often I see social media posts or hear discussions about ‘obstructive local authority planners’. I get it and unfortunately I have experienced it myself. The worst being when I rang a Local Authority to be told by a call centre that the planning department don’t answer phone calls, I had to email and would receive a reply within 2 working days! I’m not sure how that encourages engagement in the planning system.
However having worked in a Local Authority planning department for most of my professional life I have seen how much hard work is done and I understand there is increasing pressure as success is measured against timeframe targets, along with budget cuts and money saving efforts it isn’t an easy environment to work in. It is frustrating though when my private clients want a meeting to discuss a problem, hopefully to devise a solution and ultimately to deliver a development and the case officer doesn’t have capacity to arrange a meeting. Having said that in my year on this side of the fence I have met some fantastic Local Authority planners. In my experience when both sides are willing to engage in meaningful discussions solutions can usually be found. Surely its no secret that communication is key.
During the past year I have been encouraged to get passionate about planning again, Planning House is extremely supportive of this. Not least my passion for promoting equality and diversity in the planning sector. How can we plan for inclusive development if the planning industry itself isn’t inclusive? One of the many ways Planning House has supported me in this pursuit is by allowing my time to arrange, and co-sponsoring, the launch the Women in Planning branch in the North East. Over 70 people attended the launch, there are now 12 people on the committee and we have a full calendar of events organized for 2020. This feels like a huge achievement, and one I definitely wouldn’t have achieved had I not taken the leap to work at Planning House. I have always voiced my views but now it feels like the response is different, its hugely motivating to work for a company that looks to address problems and ‘do something’ about them.
Ultimately I chose a career in planning to work with people and hopefully make good places for people. I have really enjoyed the challenges of the last year, I feel like I have had a positive influence on developments and projects I have been involved in and I am genuinely excited to see what lies ahead. All this whilst wearing my slippers!