Corporate members who have retired from their day jobs are among more than 900 skilled and qualified planners who have joined Planning Aid England since 2003, enabling them to stay in touch with their profession through volunteering for the service.
Next Monday kicks off Volunteers' Week, an annual celebration of volunteering across the country, which offers the opportunity to profile the work of some of the growing band of retired but still very skilled, committed and hard-working members of the network.
John Alcock completed 43 years of local government planning in June last year and wondered how he would spend retirement. All fears of being left at a loose end swiftly vanished when he joined Planning Aid North West. "I resolved to brush up my planning skills and started cautiously with a case concerning a bungalow extension," he recalls. "I then moved on to more challenging projects, explaining how residents could respond to a nearby waste recovery plant and the extension of permission for a local landfill site."
His enthusiasm and commitment to planning are stronger than ever. "I have made friends and I can see that people understand the process, which I find very rewarding. I am also helping local environmental groups to bring some greenery to derelict land. The training I receive from Planning Aid as an active volunteer is very helpful."
Janet Harrison began her planning career in the West Midlands. She became a Planning Aid volunteer in 2000 and her commitment has been invaluable. "I have a goal of achieving 50 years as a chartered planner in 2014," she says. "This is the only way that I can access necessary continuing professional development (CPD) affordably and keep in touch with the profession."
"Sins and successes are clearer now," says Tim Cox, reflecting on his 40-year career in planning and volunteering for Planning Aid South and South West. "Why give planning up at retirement if the spark hasn't gone out? As a volunteer in Planning Aid, you can pick your level of involvement and there is satisfaction in helping to level the playing field. Those in the game don't realise how powerful they are and how excluded people can feel when fighting to get their points of view across.
"It's worth keeping up your corporate membership at least for a few years because it allows you to help with casework - which I still enjoy - and subscriptions are lower if you have no earned income from planning. A volunteering highlight was securing permission for the siting of a mobile home for two elderly showpeople. Failure would have resulted in further serious ill-health for two lovely people."
He adds: "At the other end of the scale, it is great to have the stimulus and intellectual challenge of helping a community deal with a major redevelopment. It is surprising how capable people are when they are given help and advice. My involvement with Planning Aid spans a decade now and other interests and commitments compete for my time, such as grandchildren. The network keeps me in touch with my profession so it doesn't become a thing of the past. You also have the chance to connect to the future with a much-appreciated role helping people."
If you are about to retire and wish to follow these planners' example, becoming an active volunteer for Planning Aid will get you involved with at least two or three cases a year. As others have found this will give you the opportunity to learn, reflect and improve skills. This is what good CPD is about.
As a starting point, retired members can transfer back to the class they belonged to before retirement. For example, to transfer back to corporate membership, the procedure is to apply with a professional development plan and a written record of your CPD activity, according to the guidance provided in RTPI professional conduct advice note 1. On completion of the process, you will be advised of the proportionate subscription that you have to pay.
Shereen Shafi is the volunteer and skills manager of the RTPI's National Planning Aid Unit. Regional volunteer training events are being held throughout June. For more information, please visit www.planningaid.rtpi.org.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Shafi on 07811 148070.