March 30, 2018, by Carla Froggatt
Q and A: Building a Solid Foundation for a Career in Planning
By University of Nottingham alumna and planning director at Miller Homes, Helen Dawkins
I moved to Nottingham from Shrewsbury in 1997 after securing a place on the Urban Planning and Management BA (Hons) course. Following graduation, I stayed on and completed a diploma in town planning too.
Why did you choose Nottingham?
I went on an open day and I fell in love with the campus. Afterwards, I looked through the prospectus and the urban planning and management course jumped out at me.
It seemed a natural step to progress to the diploma. I knew by then I wanted to pursue a career in planning, and this was required to progress to Membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
What did you enjoy most about your time here?
It sounds cheesy, but I love Nottingham and the campus. In fact, I made some of my best friends here.
Academically, the course I took offered a good balance between theoretical and practical learning. On the practical side, I completed an urban capacity study that allowed me to go out and about in Charnwood, Leicestershire, and gain real-life experience. We also earmarked suitable sites for developments, which stood me in good stead for my future role with Miller Homes.
How did you end up in your role at Miller Homes?
After Nottingham, I started my career as a graduate planner with Litchfields in London, where I stayed from 2001 to 2004. I then got a job at Miller Homes, working for the planning department.
Initially, my role involved working closely with the planning director, assessing new land acquisitions and working on smaller applications. 14 years on, I have now progressed into that very role, managing the short term and strategic land, working on more complex projects across the Midlands.
What skills from your degree aid your day-to-day role?
The skills I learned during my time at Nottingham have proved vital in my career, particularly when I joined Miller Homes. I came into the job with a firm grasp of how to submit successful planning applications, assess the suitability of land and navigate local plans.
How has the industry changed since you graduated?
The construction industry has certainly seen plenty of changes since I graduated in 2001. One of the most challenging periods was the most recent recession, when there was a real slowdown in building across the UK. I’ve since seen a remarkable recovery in the sector, with demand for new homes now soaring.
What advice would you offer to students looking to work in planning?
I’d say it’s important to think outside the subjects you take at school and consider how you can adapt your skills to vocational courses. If looking for a role that has a human element to it, then planning is a good option.
Around 70% of my course colleagues went on to become planning consultants after we graduated, and many are still in the industry today. Others went to work for local authorities, though there are other career opportunities in fields such as architecture and surveying.