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Reflections on my time as RTPI’s Young Planner of the Year

by Robyn Skerratt MRTPI

Over a year has gone by since the virtual RTPI Planning Excellence Awards 2020 when I saw my photograph flash up as the winner of Young Planner of the Year. It still feels slightly surreal to write that, even when a few weeks ago I handed the baton to the fantastic 2021 winner Ryan Walker.

Receiving the accolade during the pandemic was not without its challenges. Early on I decided that I wanted this to be more than a trophy on the bookshelf and instead create a platform to further champion planners early in their career. Tricky questions quickly jumped into my mind - how to really be visible and make an impact when there was so much going on for everyone. Looking back, I want to share three reflections on my year:

1. Seize the opportunity

I prioritised getting out and about virtually - it was 2020 after all - and saying yes to as many opportunities as possible to make the most of the year. To support this, I developed two priorities linked to my interests and experience to give me focus with the aim of increasing my impact:

  • amplifying the role of the planning profession in supporting the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) both internationally and domestically
  • championing non-linear career paths and the benefits of planning and planning perspectives to a range of fields and disciplines, with a specific focus on the power of coaching and mentoring in supporting career development.

Being prepared to put myself out there even when it felt outside my comfort zone to both facilitate and take opportunities has and continues to be crucial. Participating in webinars, podcasts, vlogs, interviews, workshops and judging panels have all become a lot more familiar!

Bringing new perspectives and not being afraid to constructively challenge what has gone before and innovate has also been key. For the last few months, I have been working with the RTPI Chief Executive and President to enhance the role of Young Planner of the Year, strengthening the platform and increasing the potential for impact in support of all planners early in their career. I look forward to seeing how future winners benefit from this work.

2. Collaborate

One of the silver linings of this incredibly challenging period is that virtual working can enhance inclusivity across both geographies (inside and outside the UK) and also sectors.

I have enjoyed collaborating with a number of the regional Young Planners networks including co-organising with RTPI South West an introduction to the SDGs, with speakers from a number of local authorities.

It was great to discuss the fantastic positive real-world impact the SDGs are making to planning and place-making in local communities. With the new RTPI International Strategy, Wei Yang's RTPI Presidency and a Decade of Action needed to reach the SDGs by 2030, I am confident that we will be seeing and hearing a lot more about planning's contribution to the Goals in the coming months and years. If you want to know more, the RTPI Learn Module on SDGs is a great place to start.

Linking well to the Plan the World We Need campaign, I organised a session on Sustainable Recovery in London.

This panel of built environment professionals really did seek to bring a range of complementary yet contrasting perspectives to challenge conventional thinking on building back better from COVID-19. Looking at issues cross sector is always refreshing, with planners playing a crucial convening and bridging role.

3. Have fun and keep learning

Planning for me is a passion as well as profession and one of the highlights has been getting to engage with more individuals embarking on their planning journey. This included judging and running an online skills workshop for the winners of the RTPI World Town Planning Day student competition. It was hugely refreshing to sit down and discuss their innovative proposals including ways to progress their ideas further. I am not sure they envisaged getting homework!

I completed an Institute of Leadership and Management Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring last year (it shouldn't have taken lockdown to finish the essays!) It has been great to share some of that newly acquired learning through voluntary activities including the Commonwealth Association of Planners Young Planners Network, who have recently launched a new mentoring programme. I am also really pleased to see the launch of the RTPI mentoring programme - NURTURE.

So, as my year comes to a close, I look back gratefully on all the experiences I have had and the expanded support network that I have built. I am hugely struck by the dynamism within our profession and the vital role we have to play as we build back better with a focus on creating great places, contributing to delivery of the SDGs and reaching net zero by 2050. It is not going to be easy but I have no doubt that the planning toolbox, that unique blend of experience and skills, is going to be vital.

If you are interested in applying or nominating someone for Young Planner of the Year either regionally or nationally, go for it!

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