Anyone considering volunteering for Planning Aid England this year should read its latest volunteer survey findings. Almost 85 per cent of respondents said they would recommend volunteering for the service, with 75 per cent saying they had enjoyed their experience.
"The fact that volunteers enjoy it and are prepared to recommend it are two great incentives to join up," says Planning Aid England volunteer and skills manager Shereen Shafi. "Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the service," she adds.
"They help us extend our capacity to help economically disadvantaged and socially excluded people and communities. By acting independently and impartially, they build the public's confidence and capacity to get involved with planning."
Planning Aid England has 1,056 volunteers at the time of the survey. One-third of respondents have more than 20 years' experience in planning, with 37 per cent aged between 25 and 34. Their skills lie in appeals, public inquiries, urban design, environment, community participation, housing, development plans and development management.
It is this range which gives Planning Aid England the ability to respond and relate so effectively to its clients' needs. This exclusive pool of competence is not offered for free anywhere else in the UK.
"Our volunteers freely bring their professional experience and knowledge," Shafi points out. "Without them we would not have been able to deliver support, advice, training and raising awareness about the planning system to more than 31,000 people last year."
Planning Aid England carries out an annual survey of its volunteers to establish an up-to-date picture of the extent and nature of volunteering. This information helps regions allocate assignments.
The RTPI membership remains the main source of volunteers and the responses this year showed a mix of altruistic and professional reasons for signing up. The most popular reasons cited were that it is a good thing to do or to learn new skills, while 75 per cent were motivated because Planning Aid is a potential source of continuing professional development.
Skills gaps remain in the fields of transport, minerals, Gypsies and travellers and renewable energy, so any members with these skills looking to make a difference should consider offering their services.
Ben Lee is the RTPI's Planning Aid communications and public affairs officer. Shereen Shafi can be contacted on 0121 214 2909 or at email@example.com.