Planning Aid North is one of a national network of services provided by the Royal Town Planning Institute. It offers independent support to disadvantaged communities in Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and the Tees Valley.
There are two main strands of our business. The first is a free, independent advice service for members of the community who can't afford a planning consultant. Second, we raise awareness of and give support to communities around the recent Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. Basically, I manage these services in the north of England.
How did you move into this role?
I worked as a network engineer and manager in the water industry for 36 years. I was always involved in community work, and when I left I could have just retired. However, this job was advertised and I really liked the look of it because it was all about service delivery while giving something back to the community. In the latter part of my career in the water industry, customer service was a real priority for me. In this job, I get to see the benefits of good customer service on a daily basis. I feel like I'm making a difference.
What's the best piece of training you've ever received?
I learnt how to use the publishing package QuarkXPress 10 years ago, and it's been brilliant. It allows me to produce information sheets, case studies, progress reports, press releases - the list goes on. It's been invaluable, especially in my current line of work.
What's been your greatest career achievement to date?
When I came to Planning Aid I saw a niche - getting young people involved in planning. I fleshed the proposition out and got buy-in from the organisation on the potential value of this type of engagement.
Since then, I've been working hard to get regional planners on board with our Planning Education for Young People programme. And just recently, we won an RTPI award for the scheme. That was hugely gratifying for me.
What's the best career-related advice you've ever received?
It's not a piece of advice from one person, as such, but is a route I've ended up taking in working life - and that's recognising the importance of customer service in service delivery. It's about appreciating the customers, understanding their needs, giving them a reasonable answer and getting back to them promptly.
A charity's beneficiaries are customers, too, of course. They shouldn't be treated any differently from business customers.