Friends had warned her not to "do a Kate Winslet" and burst into tears of feigned disbelief. But when I finally manage to extract Tracey Haskins from the throng offering their congratulations, she seems genuinely surprised to have won the 2008 RTPI Young Planner of the Year award.
Haskins modestly declines to accept sole credit, preferring to heap praise on her colleagues at Guildford Borough Council. She is only one member of a team and she owes her award to others, she insists. "The support of your partner, family, friends and colleagues is invaluable, as is a healthy curiosity about places and what has worked well elsewhere," she remarks.
Haskins leads a team of young planners preparing Guildford's local development framework, including the core strategy and a town centre area action plan. Apart from winning the RTPI award, she claims that her career highlights have consistently involved tasks where teamwork has made a positive difference to local people or an area.
She grew up in the Hampshire market town of Petersfield and greatly values the quality of life and environment that such settlements provide. "They are small enough to have a sense of community and yet there is enough in terms of services and facilities to make them places where you want to stay," she explains. "My dissertation looked at the changing role of market towns, the issues they face and the different regeneration approaches being taken."
Outside work, she is an active volunteer in the Petersfield Tomorrow initiative. Fellow team members, including RTPI past president Tony Struthers, credit her enthusiasm, expertise and local knowledge as vital ingredients in the preparation of the town's design statement and consultations with local people.
"Projects such as this bring people together to identify and act to deliver on local priorities. It would be good to get more young planners involved in their areas because they have a lot to offer and gain from the experience," says Haskins. However, she recognises that the profile of grass-roots community planning among younger planners is poor. "Few get involved, perhaps due to negative perceptions. But I will actively argue for the cause," she says.
Although Haskins hails from Petersfield, she does not believe that it is necessary to know a place well to best serve its planning needs. "As a planner, you are almost always an outsider coming in. In talking to stakeholders, the professional experience that you can bring from involvement in other projects means that you can provide a fresh view," she maintains.
She has always had an interest in human geography, places and buildings. She was inspired by an excellent geography teacher at school and went on to take her degree in the subject at the University of Portsmouth, where her dissertation looked at transport planning in the light of the M3 extension at Winchester.
While working as an assistant planner in East Hampshire District Council's development control team, she completed her formal planning training as a postgraduate at the University of Westminster. "I graduated with an understanding of the breadth of planning practice and how we can positively influence place," she says.
Studying planning part-time while working in a local authority development control service meant that she was able to apply what she was learning immediately in implementing policies and negotiating schemes. "I found early on that the profession is varied, challenging and offers opportunities for continual learning, a particular passion of mine. In my experience, there is real camaraderie and an enthusiasm and motivation to get the job done well."
Haskins feels fortunate to be recognised for doing what she enjoys. "I appreciate the opportunities that this award will bring over the coming year and will work hard to promote the profession, in particular community planning among young planners," she pledges
As part of the award, she will travel to Minneapolis in April to attend the American Planning Association's national planning conference. She is looking forward to learning from the experiences of US planners and hopes to broaden her understanding of issues common to both nations in developing local policies and working with communities. It is this philosophy that makes planning more than just a job to her.
If Haskins succeeds in communicating her enjoyment of and commitment to planning practice over the next 12 months, she will provide an outstanding role model. "In the future I intend to continue to develop my management and community engagement skills and to learn to relax more," she concludes.
Education: Degree in geography, University of Portsmouth; MA in town planning, University of Westminster; diploma in management studies, Kingston University
Interests: Community planning, photography, travel, live music, badminton
2006: Planning policy manager, Guildford Borough Council
2002: Senior planning officer rising to principal policy planner, Guildford Borough Council
2001: Senior planning assistant, Waverley Borough Council
1996: Assistant planner rising to planning officer, East Hampshire District Council