Community programmes set a university team challenge

Planning Aid plays a crucial role in giving students a taste of planning in the real world, notes Kevin Lillie.

Planning Aid's record in raising local awareness of the planning process, offering training programmes to the public and supporting community empowerment is recognised. But it is forging stronger links with universities too.

Recently more than 50 planning students from Sheffield Hallam University spent a full day with the Planning Aid North (PAN) team after a lecturer read about its work with communities in Gateshead. PAN has helped residents in Felling set out their vision for regeneration through a programme that culminated in a community audit of the neighbourhood. This project was used as a demonstration for the students.

After hearing an overview of PAN's regional support programme and an explanation of the Felling community centre scheme, the students split into groups to experience the process for themselves. They visited some of the key areas identified by residents, gaining a first-hand understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by the neighbourhood. They then returned to the centre and applied their knowledge, creating regeneration solutions through model building.

Feedback from the event has been excellent, with lecturer Karen Escott describing the programme as very valuable for students in applying the principles of community engagement to planning practice. The students who took part are similarly upbeat about their experiences. So are the PAN staff, who got a real buzz from helping inspire the next generation of planners.

PAN has opened up links with a broad range of learning institutions and is constantly seeking new ties. As well as working with Newcastle University, the organisation is also doing its bit to break down the north-south divide. For the second year running, students from London South Bank University have visited PAN to learn about the community initiatives programme as part of their tour of regeneration schemes in the region.

We are now looking forward to a new academic year, which not only gives us a fresh opportunity to work with planning students but also to introduce the importance of planning to school-age students through the national Planning Education for Young People programme. The future is looking very bright for communities and young professionals in the North East.

- Kevin Lillie is PAN North East regional co-ordinator. He can be contacted on 0191 222 5776 or

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