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Well-being for Planners: Taking positive steps together

Author: David Ames – East of England Regional Chair 2022. The Mental Health at Work and Play with Mind and the Landscape Institute event will be held on the 13 May during Mental Health Awareness Week

In September, RTPI President, Timothy Crawshaw, will be undertaking a three-day walk for well-being.  Tim’s focus on wellbeing is a priority shared by us in the East of England Region, and a topic that we believe is of great significance particularly as a result of the various changes to working practices introduced during the pandemic.

As planners, we face many challenges on a daily basis, which can test morale, resilience and even personal well-being. This can be exacerbated by a poor perception of our profession by the many stakeholders that we deal with. This is equally prevalent in private, public and third sectors and in our region, where we are particularly concerned about the well-being of our young planners.

Anecdotally, we hear that entrants into our profession over the past two years have not been able to benefit from the positive mentoring, collaborative working and learning through in-person working. Although flexible working practices have helped many with their life/work balance, for many, this has led to feelings of isolation and a stall on career development.

Whilst remote working is positively received by many of our colleagues, for others it continues to challenge our resilience.

This is what drew us to set up #PlanPals – which has just celebrated its first birthday. The brainchild of our regional Young Planner Chair, Beth Jones, we have been hosting monthly ‘drop-in sessions’ for Young Planners to get together simply to talk – and it’s been a resounding success.

Many of our colleagues do not have access to a separate private space, home office or garden room, having to resort to various set ups in their bedrooms and living rooms. This is particularly challenging when living in shared households or where childcare is being balanced in small accommodation. Anyone’s resilience would be tested when facing the often that we deal with daily. Our homes should be our safe place, but are compromised by these added stresses.

We’ve all seen how ‘fresh air’ and green space can help and it’s in part why we’ve adapted some of our CPD this year to afford members opportunity to get ‘Out and About’ through a series of walking tours, recently visiting Eddington, Cambridge and Norwich. These too are proving popular.

But what else can we do to help? 

In most cases, employers are trying to support their staff and have made office space available for those who are finding it difficult to work from home, but there are still many individuals facing feelings of isolation, difficulty in switching off and a sense of a lack of support, who do not feel confident to raise this.

Whilst remote working is positively received by many of our colleagues, for others it continues to challenge our resilience.

So what can we do about this? 

Firstly, we need to understand the extent of the issue. We are of course a data led profession and this should be the case when considering our members’ welfare, building on anecdotal evidence. 

In the East of England, we have recently launched  a confidential survey of our members to understand how they are doing. 

This will then shape the Mental Health at Work and Play with Mind and the Landscape Institute webinar on 13 May during Mental Health Awareness Week, where we will share the themes from the survey, which will be used to develop a discussion with representatives from MIND, the mental health charity, who will also be recommending measures to help promote well-being and resilience.

Our hope is that, by flagging some of these issues, there can be greater awareness and consideration of how we, as employers, team leaders and colleagues deal with our fellow professionals on a daily basis. 

Finally, as we all know, planners can make positive interventions to the quality of the built and natural environments; this is at the heart of our profession. We want to ensure that opportunities for great place making promoting well-being are not lost.

To help support this aspiration, we will also be joined at the event by our friends at the Landscape Institute, who will be examining how open space can be designed to promote positive mental health. This we hope will help us to encourage consideration of how spaces can have a positive impact and how we can work with designers to incorporate this into schemes.

I hope that this is something that can be repeated in future years and we can start to get a flavour of the trends in the happiness of our members and how we can support each other.

The RTPI | Mental health and wellbeing hub brings together a series of resources to support our members – including information on where to find help and advice alongside our CPD events and training on this topic.

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