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How the RTPI Future Planners Bursary helped me achieve my dreams

By Jennifer Campbell

After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Interior Architecture at Heriot Watt University, my passion for design grew, with my interests changing to designing for the natural and built environment. I wanted to make a change, building a more sustainable future for myself, my family and my community. I applied for a place on the MSc Urban and Regional Planning course at Heriot Watt University and was delighted to be enjoying a course where I met a great range of exciting people from different professions and backgrounds, as well as interacting with some of the best lecturers in urban planning. 

When the lecturers nominated me for the RTPI bursary at the start of the course, I was delighted and relieved. As a 36-year-old single parent, going back to university after a career in the oil and gas industry, university life was challenging, as any single parent would know. Trying to study and bring up a child while on a tight budget can impact on stress levels and well being. The experience of having this bursary relieved me of the stress of worrying about affording essentials, such as food and fuel for my family, as well as travelling back and forth for lectures, and being able to buy learning materials.  If it weren’t for this bursary, I don’t think I would have made it through my year at university which would have denied me some of the amazing opportunities that came up throughout the year.

The best thing I love about planning is how it integrates a wide range of viewpoints and disciplines. During the course, I was able to transfer my design skills and problem solving from my original degree and combine my skills with other people in group projects. As a student at university, I loved working alongside economists, geographers and architects, all coming together for group projects to provide sustainable solutions to our ever-changing environment. I also loved gaining knowledge of contemporary governance as well as community planning and learning how planning is always evolving at a fast pace. Planners are always going to be needed to come up with new innovative solutions, which comes with having great vision, and my design skills certainly helped contribute to this.

While the financial help of this bursary made it possible for me to attend university, it also gave me a platform to engage and network with a wide variety of people with greater experience than myself, within the urban planning industry.  This led to me being able to gain practical work experience with a local planning consultancy, carrying out feasibility reports, site visits, planning applications – helping me to enhance my planning skills while studying.

It was also through university that I learned of the opportunity to actively volunteer with Planning Aid Scotland (PAS), Scotland’s leading place and active citizenship charity. PAS is a volunteer-led organisation that provides skills training and support for a variety of people, including future planners like myself and community groups, particularly those who struggle to engage in the planning system.  Volunteering for PAS really helped me to engage as a planner within the community, as I was able to be involved in projects aimed at young people and place-making, like “Bridging the Gap”. This inter-generational partnership provides young people with expertise, to learn about the decision-making processes that happen in planning as well as being able to engage in place-making. What I enjoyed most about the project was how engaging the workshops were for young people. The planning system can be complicated at the best of times, but what amazed me was how well PAS executed these workshops, engaging with the children and participants through seminars and team building activities.

As a student planner, the RTPI Future Planners Bursary has given me a great advantage. I have gained huge insight from attending university. For me, the bursary is a platform for those who have the talent and skills, and who have the potential to make visionary planners in the future. People who are from disadvantaged backgrounds, but have the talent, dedication and hard work, who want to be a part of a better sustainable future should not be excluded. The planning system always strives to be inclusive, and the RTPI bursary promotes that. Urban planning needs people from varied backgrounds and professions, no matter what race, age, gender, or class, to provide a more efficient way of planning. I have a strong desire to make a more sustainable, positive impact when developing the future of the community. As a future planner, I look forward to working with and serving the public, and helping those living and experiencing the disadvantages of life in their own built environment.

Jennifer Campbell

Jennifer Campbell is currently gaining work experience at TMC Planning Consultancy in Schotts, while finishing off her dissertation to complete her MSC Urban and Regional Planning degree at Heriot Watt University. Her future ambitions include setting up her online interior and urban design blog as well as looking to secure a position as a graduate planner for a local authority when her studies are completed.

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