Katie has a BA (Hons) History from the University of Durham, a Masters in Planning from the University of Manchester and is currently finishing a part-time MSc Architectural Conservation with the University of Central Lancashire. She works as a town planner for the Co-operative Group and is involved in a range of heritage projects.
In my final year studying history, I did a module in architectural history and this raised my interest in the built environment. I went on to do a Masters course in town planning but was unaware of what a planner did on a day-to-day basis, so took on a part time-job as an assistant planner with multi-disciplinary consultancy Arup whilst I was studying. I found the work as valuable as the studying in teaching me about the world of planning. Towards the end of my Masters I realised that I missed history and therefore decided that I wanted to specialise in heritage within the discipline of planning.
Following graduation, I became a graduate planner with Arup, working full time. I also negotiated with them to undertake a part-time Masters course in architectural conservation, for which they provided part-funding. Both my planning and conservation Masters are accredited by the relevant professional bodies, which will enable me to progress quickly professionally.
At Arup I worked on a wide range of projects, focusing particularly on renewable energy and green space, as well as the historic environment. As the company knew I wanted to specialise in the latter I was put forward for relevant projects, such as advising engineers on listed bridge structures and applying for listed building consent for flood defences.
Unfortunately, due to the recession, I was made redundant but used this as an opportunity to gain more experience in the historic environment. I set myself up as a sole trader and completed some work for the National Trust as a sub-consultant. The work really deepened my understanding of what conservation professionals do on a daily basis and included a lot of archive research and recording and analysis of extant historic structures.
I was then offered a full-time position with The Co-operative Group as a town planner. Even though the role is not wholly conservation based, it offers me commercial experience and an opportunity to work on some high-profile projects.
The first hour of my day is spent checking emails and responding to anything urgent from internal colleagues or my consultants. I am currently working on about 15 projects, but only focus on two to three per day. The projects can be anywhere in the UK and I provide town planning advice and project management to three areas: our investment and development portfolio; active farms; and our head office redevelopment in Manchester. Each area can involve heritage work, such as a listed building or development within a conservation area. For the head office redevelopment, I advise the team on the heritage issues and manage our heritage consultants. This involves agreeing overall heritage strategy for redeveloping our listed estate with the project leaders, as well as reviewing heritage and conservation documents produced by our consultants.
Since starting as a graduate planner, my knowledge of planning and the historic environment has developed significantly. Since joining The Co-operative Group, I have also gained much greater responsibility, for example in ensuring planning permission is received for developments, managing consultants and providing my professional opinion to internal colleagues, such as surveyors.
I work on such a wide variety of projects that every day is different. Although I really enjoy this, it is also a challenge as it can take time to decide the best strategy for a project and do the appropriate background research. I like being able to make a difference to the built environment around us and hopefully also to conserve our heritage.
My advice to others is to start reading and expanding your knowledge on different periods of architectural history. Get work experience and also get involved with the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) . You will able to meet people already in the profession and attend seminars.
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