A week in the life of a Planning Degree Apprentice
I’m currently in the second year of the RTPI Degree Apprenticeship programme, studying an MSc in Spatial Planning one day a week at University College London (UCL). On the other four days, I work in the Bidwells London Planning Team. Now over a year into the Master’s, I’ve taken some time to reflect on this (relatively new) route to becoming a Chartered Planner and I hope that by sharing my experiences so far, I can advocate for the Degree Apprenticeship as a great basis for a career in planning!
To set the scene, it’s late October and I’m four weeks into my second academic year at UCL. This year, I’m studying a specialism in Historic Cities and a module called Pillars of Planning (which consists of lectures on urban economics and real estate finance this term). I’m also working on a range of exciting projects at work, including a new academic building for the University of Southampton, and projects for a number of colleges at the University of Oxford. So, my life generally revolves around universities at the moment…
This year, I start off the week at UCL with my day of ‘off the job learning’. Usually I’d be heading to the Bloomsbury campus, but this morning I was off to Covent Garden to visit the Bow Street Hotel and Police Museum, where we met the hotel operator and museum curator to discuss their approach to heritage conservation in the recent development. The rich history of the site as a police station and Magistrates’ Court has been creatively incorporated into the hotel, with the adjacent Police Museum being secured via planning obligation to ensure that the stories associated with the site continue to be told.
Going into the Historic Cities specialism I had a baseline understanding of heritage in planning, centred on significance statements and heritage impact assessments. Being given the time and tools to deconstruct the discourses that feed into the valuation of heritage assets has been invaluable; I’m able to reflect on experiences at work in a more critical way and interrogate understandings and practices that can easily go unquestioned during the busy work week.
Bow Street Police Museum (left) and Magistrates’ Courtroom which has been turned into a private event space for the hotel (right).
Back in our London office, I started my ‘on the job learning’ this week with the Planning Team meeting. The day was then focused on pulling together an application for the University of Southampton, firstly with a project team meeting and then specific meetings with technical consultants. Working on large projects such as this is a great way to learn from a wide range of technical experts and gain a breadth of knowledge, which is essential for planners who need to advise on all aspects of a development.
The proposed NEQ development at the University of Southampton – a new teaching and learning building (Sheppard Robson Architects)
Another day in the office, and today I was working on projects for a University of Oxford college. With parts of the college dating back to the 17th century, the proposals require both planning and Listed Building Consent. The Bidwells Heritage team sit alongside Planning which is especially useful when working on these kinds of projects. It’s great to have experts on hand to talk through any questions, and this collaboration is especially beneficial when the Planning and Heritage teams are both appointed to a project so we can work closely on interlinked issues.
Thursday was a little out of the ordinary; Bidwells offers us two days per year to volunteer our time, and today the London Planning Team were off to Richmond Park to help with conservation efforts. After donning our waders we got to work relocating rushes from one pond to another, with the aim of reducing erosion. Today was not only a rewarding way to give back to one of the boroughs we work in, but it was great to get out of the office with the team. I feel lucky to have two strong support networks created by the Degree Apprenticeship – I have amazing colleagues who share their worldly wisdom with me, and great university friends from across all sectors and locations who offer insights about their own work to learn from.
Today I was preparing for a public consultation at the University of Southampton, which was taking place the following week. Preparing consultation materials – leaflets to send residents and exhibition boards for public displays – is an interesting part of my job where I get to exercise a different set of skills to communicate planning issues to the public. By the end of the day, the exhibition boards had been sent to print, and I had prepared an FAQ to use at the event.
All in all, this was an interesting, although pretty representative, week in my life as a Planning Degree Apprentice. There’s such a diversity of projects, modules and office activities to get on with each week that there’s an endless supply of learning opportunities coming from all angles.
The synergies between work and study encouraged by the RTPI Degree Apprenticeship form a solid foundation for a career in planning. Alongside setting you up with a supercharged professional network, the programme offers both a grounded understanding of practice as well as the space to critically evaluate these practices, developing planners who are thoughtful, reflective and informed.