Corporate social responsibility is more than just a box-ticking exercise. At practices such as ours, Peter Brett Associates, it is an important part of the practice culture. We engage directly with communities, building close relationships with schools and local charities.
In Taunton, where I’m principal planner, we have recently developed a partnership with the Somerset Wildlife Trust. We have helped fund improved visitor access to the trust-run Langford Heathfield Nature Reserve, near the Devon border, home to many significant species, from butterflies to dormice. Many of the team visit the reserve with their families and can see the benefits.
The value for practices of taking part in such projects can be seen at many levels and the benefits of CSR don't stop with the communities – they feed back into professional practice. By making a tangible difference to people’s lives, we are putting ourselves in different environments, which gives us a fresh perspective on our work. For multi-disciplinary practices, this fosters an even greater sense of collaboration.
So planners themselves are learning when they focus on another key aspect of CSR, which is improving educational opportunities. This year, our Taunton office teamed up with a local school as part of the engineering education scheme where students undertake a six-month design project to determine the factors most likely to obstruct development on a site and to design a solution proving the development was feasible.
This was not just an eye-opener to students and teachers. As consultants, we are used to working remotely and across disciplines, but controlling a group of teenagers is a challenge.
Another positive spin-off from CSR is that by immersing yourself in local community life your enthusiasm and skills can rub off on, and inspire youngsters to think about land development as a career option.
Some may even consider work experience, so CSR, in roundabout ways, is helping to inspire future generations of planners and informing the wider community of just how vital our role is.
Mary Crew is a principal planner at Peter Brett Associates