Clare Eggington is the 2023 West Midlands RTPI Chair and is also Planning Policy Manager at Coventry City Council
Early volunteering days
Well, firstly let me say that if it wasn’t for volunteering I would never have found my way into a career in Town Planning! Reigniting my Primary School passion for the ‘Plant a Tree for ‘73’ campaign (I really was very keen), I planted many more throughout my 1980’s university years, supplementing my English degree with weekends working on conservation projects in the Welsh hillsides. Dodgy drystone wall? Probably my work. Talented I was not, but I had bags of enthusiasm, new practical and administrative skills and an expanding CV – all of which helped me gain me a place on an environmental diploma course and ultimately convinced a local authority planning team to take a chance on this very green graduate, give them a first taste of development control and send them on a planning masters day release course.
Jump forwards several decades and much varied volunteering later (PTA, litter picker, mental health champion, park-run marshall to name a few!), I am really proud to have spent the last few years as a volunteer with the RTPI, as an apprenticeships assessor and as a member of the West Midlands Regional Activities Committee and Regional Management Board. I put myself forward to represent the West Midlands as I always felt throughout my career that I had been a ‘net taker’ of RTPI activities, especially some of the really excellent CPD sessions the region was running, and I really wanted to give something back. A real benefit of joining the West Midlands RTPI volunteers is that we have a group of committed people from a range of different sectors, public, private, education, retired and students – lots of different experiences and perspectives all coming together for a shared cause.
I have been the West Midlands RTPI Chair this year, a role I must admit I entered with a sense of trepidation, not least because I am far more at home in hiking boots than heels, and the thought of a lot of formal events was quite daunting! I needn’t have feared as most of our events are very informal in any case. I have been working with a fantastic team of people and have actually thoroughly enjoyed those more formal aspects of our work, particularly the awards and ball because they are a true celebration of the passion and commitment our region’s planners have to the profession and the high standard of work they consistently deliver on.
As Chair I have also had the privilege of being able to shape particular priorities this year, and initiating a locally focused programme of public sector support at a time when the sector is facing particular challenges in terms of resourcing has been extremely rewarding. We started off by delivering a session on Planners on the Front Line (see blog by Philippa Smith) and after the success of this are looking at more support for the sector.
Another particular passion of mine as a volunteer (this blog is starting to sound like a personal statement for a UCAS form!) has always been to enthuse and encourage new people into the profession, whether they are young people looking for inspiration on career ideas, or others who would like a change of career or to gain experience of employment. Promoting planning as a career and then seeing new planners coming through the system is so rewarding. They have so much enthusiasm and energy and of course that is just what a resilient profession needs. It was for that reason I also became an apprenticeships assessor. A recent blog by Graham Bloomfield captures what this is all about and I wholeheartedly agree with him.
Looking to the future
As my year as West Midlands Chair comes to a close I aim after this to focus my energy on delivering CPD for the region and of course to try and bring more new planners on board as well as continuing with my Assessor role. I also want to try and encourage new volunteers to join us, the more the merrier and the more we can deliver for our members and beyond.
What I have learned as a volunteer
As you will have gathered by now, I have always been a volunteer in some capacity or other…conservation, PTA, park-run marshall, litter picker, general herder of cats as well as all the RTPI stuff. ‘Do gooder’ is a term often uttered with scorn in the media but I am proud to be a ‘do gooder’. Volunteers are at the heart of their communities whether that’s a physical place or a community of interest. Volunteering has enabled me to grow in my career and as a person, helping me to expand my CV through practical, social and administrative skills and it has also helped me understand and empathise with what makes communities and individuals ‘tick’, essential skills for town (and country!) planning of course.
The value of volunteering
So, as I wrap up this blog, it’s important to reflect on what also makes volunteers ‘tick’. Obviously it’s about passion for their cause, but it’s also about ensuring that the volunteers themselves feel valued for the time they give so freely. Volunteers are spinning many plates and sometimes they are not able to commit as much time to a cause as they might like for many different reasons. Leading a group of volunteers and keeping them motivated and knowing they are appreciated can be a very fragile thing. If they do not feel valued for what they do, volunteers will drift away and it will become harder to recruit and retain, and those remaining will face an increasing workload, or will simply deliver less because they will just not have the capacity to do more.
So, I say to all our volunteers, thank you so much for all you do – and to anyone thinking of volunteering in whatever way, please do so, you will find it so rewarding in many, many ways.