RTPI - YOUNG PLANNERS' PAGE: Peace on earth, good will from young planners

In this Christmas edition of the young planners' page we turn the spotlight onto Planning Aid. Ian Silvera and Claire Osborn both report.

- Ian Silvera provides background information on Planning Aid:

Planning Aid is the UK-wide network of services that provide free and independent planning advice to groups and individuals unable to afford to pay fees to a planning consultant.

It has been part of the UK planning scene for 30 years. Its most valuable resource is its volunteers, the band of dedicated professionals who devote their time and expertise to assisting some of our most disadvantaged communities to have their say on local planning matters. There are currently more than 600 Planning Aid volunteers in the UK, of whom some 85 are student members of the RTPI.

The advent of government funding for Planning Aid means that the service will be employing full-time staff (or equivalent) in each branch area to strengthen its core advice work and develop new areas of community planning activity. In essence, Planning Aid will become more proactive.

Rather than waiting for communities to contact the service, Planning Aid will employ a number of dedicated community planners to identify and engage local communities in the planning process through a combination outreach, education and development work.

Planning Aid needs to recruit new volunteers - particularly young planners - as they will be the lifeblood of the future service. In return, Planning Aid will be able to offer a wide range of volunteering opportunities such as carrying out research, giving presentations and helping to develop a range of community planning projects. Only corporate members of the RTPI are able to give planning advice to members of the public, but there may also be opportunities to shadow or support corporate members.

Volunteering for Planning Aid provides many benefits. These include gaining valuable work experience, contributing towards CPD, networking and training opportunities. The support provided for volunteers will also be strengthened and this will include induction, training and support. Following the completion of an ODPM-funded study, the RTPI is developing a strategy to formalise volunteer recruitment, retention and support and the institute will be employing a volunteer development officer to implement this strategy.

- Claire Osborn reflects on her experience as a Planning Aid volunteer:

Examples of work experience are a "must have" for the CV of any young planner. Volunteering for Planning Aid to help communities and individuals also helps the volunteer. The opportunities offered are all worthwhile, different and can be fitted into the busiest of schedules. You are guaranteed to be making a difference for the better - whether it is relieving the office manager of paperwork, helping at a community event or simply listening to people's planning problems.

My personal experiences gained through being a student volunteer with West Midlands Planning Aid Service have spanned both development control and policy planning issues and have helped my studies enormously. I have found helping project workers at community events really rewarding and have gained many insights from contact with those members of the community affected by planning decisions.

As a volunteer, in addition to helping others, you meet a variety of characters and can benefit from the vast range of experience of those already in the profession who are also volunteers.

So, as the New Year approaches and resolutions need to be made, why not take the plunge and offer your services to your local Planning Aid service?

The organisers will appreciate it enormously and you will experience a more fulfilling side to planning life.

Ian Silvera is RTPI Planning Aid manager and Claire Osborn is a student member of the RTPI, a member of the RTPI West Midlands Branch Executive and chairwoman of the Branch Young Planners Group.

- If you are interested in finding out more, please contact Ian Silvera, RTPI Planning Aid manager, on (tel) 0121 766 5282 or (e-mail) planaidcoord@rtpi.org.uk.

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