Happy New Year from PLACED

Welcome to 2022! I hope that people had a safe, restful, rejuvenating break.

Tradition dictates that we make resolutions at this time of year. We set out our stall on how we can be a ‘better’ version of ourselves than the version we were last year. I’ve never been one for new year resolutions. Even more so over the last two years, when few things have gone as planned. Instead, we’ve been consistently required to be responsive, to adapt, innovate and evolve.

The ongoing uncertainty Covid brings means making firm plans still feels challenging. In the months before Christmas, we were able to do what we enjoy most; getting out and having conversations, hearing different views, speaking to people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to influence the design of places, and working creatively with young people. The New Year once again sees us reflecting on whether we can responsibly do this.

In the context of this uncertainty, it’s clear that there has been a national wave of reflection. People are leaving jobs, having career changes, retiring. Doing things that they wouldn’t have normally considered if it wasn’t for the tide-change we’ve all experienced.

In contrast, I’m acutely aware that — despite best intentions — I’ve found regularly and consistently dedicating time to driving forward strategic change hard. We’ve lots of ideas, but we’re also incredibly busy delivering. And I’ll be blunt. 2021 was challenging. Months of home schooling. Consistently innovating to ensure we can deliver meaningful engagement and education under changing restrictions. Ensuring we remain sustainable, don’t lose our values, nurture relationships with the right clients and partners, and still have an impact. Working with new talented team members and saying goodbye to old friends. Like so many others leading organisations, finding time to come up for air has been tricky.

So, I’m going to break from tradition and put some resolutions down here. They’re ones that have been bubbling away and that we’ve been speaking about as a team. But perhaps setting out our stall here means that we’re committing to them.

Educating and campaigning

PLACED has been going for ten years. It’s fair to say that as an organisation we have a fair bit of experience and knowledge. Things have changed a lot over those ten years — especially in terms of attitudes to engagement from within the sector at large. However, there’s still a lot to do.

Whilst tenders now more regularly talk about engagement being critical, budgets don’t really enable proper engagement and — perhaps due to this being a bit new — ‘engagement’ can sometimes end up being delivered by those who really are experts in communication. Which is not the same at all. Project timescales can force decisions to be made and design to be done before the critical conversations have been had and relationships built upon. And there’s still some who feel that they, as trained professionals, know best anyway, so really, why bother asking the public?

This year, we’re committing to doing more to share our experience of the value of good engagement, of sharing our experience and helping to iron out some of the creases that we can see.

Accountability and influence

A big conversation in PLACED has been how we ensure greater accountability, and that engagement isn’t tokenism. We’re passionate about building in feedback loops, and ensuring people understand what happened to the knowledge they generously shared. Too often, people are not told about why decisions have been made and — in the context of long-term plans — feel as though nothing at all is happening.

I’m excited that there are several things we’re working on over the next few months to help ensure that once we finish a project, we can encourage the conversation to continue.

Learn and innovate

Covid has taught us that nothing is static. It’s essential that we make time to reflect and innovate, build on what we do well, and look at what we can do better. We’re not perfect. Our new team has a fabulous mix of skills — architecture, academia, planning, education, research, regeneration… This gives us a mix of skills richer than ever before. The opportunity to learn from one another, and from others is incredibly exciting and something we’ll ensure to build on and nurture this year.

Increase our work to empower young people

If you read any of the blogs on here, you’ll know how much we and our friends share a fundamental belief that we need to keep prioritising working with young people if we’re to make any real difference to the system. Whether helping to diversify who works in the sector through our education programmes or ensuring the youth voice is heard in the design of places, we want to do even more to empower young people from diverse backgrounds.

Thanks to amazing support from Partners and Sponsors, we’ve been able to deliver the PLACED Academy for three years now. The Academy itself builds on over ten years of experience of developing and delivering built environment education programmes. Now, we’re looking at how it can have an even greater impact, and our different models. It’s exciting, and it’s something we know can have a massive impact. Afterall, if we don’t, how will things ever change?

So, there we have it. Reflections rather than resolutions perhaps, but my thoughts on this year. We achieved a lot in 2021, despite its challenges. Our team has shown great resilience and passion for what we do, and I’m starting 2022 feeling excited at what we can achieve.

Happy new year.

Jo Harrop
PLACED Director and Founder

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