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Moving into the third sector planning: What you need to know

Published on: 11 Mar 2016

What is it?

The ‘third sector’ encompasses a wide range of non-profit-making, nongovernmental organisations that have an interest in land use and the built environment.

They range from housing associations and charities (such as Shelter), to environmental charities (such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and social enterprises providing regeneration support (such as SKINN in Sheffield). All require the skills and knowledge that planners possess.

What are third sector employers looking for?

  • Outlook

An understanding of the organisation’s social purpose and a sympathy with its aims and ethics are highly desirable. Those working in the third sector tend to be motivated as much by a sense of social ‘good’ as by a desire to build their career.

  • Character

“It is not necessarily an in-depth knowledge of an area that I am looking for, but the right approach and attitude, ”says David Ames, head of heritage and strategic planning at Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation. “That’s the thing I would be looking at the most.”

Third sector planning jobs are usually set in small teams, and often the planner has to be prepared to be the ‘go to’ person for a particular project,

Ames explains. Thus, someone who is keen to develop knowledge under their own initiative will have the best chance of success.

Beyond this, Ames would expect to see candidates with a good range of experience and a “reasonably rounded background”.

CV/application form highlights

  • Give examples of broad experience outside planning
  • Demonstrate your understanding of the organisation’s social purpose
  • Emphasise your willingness to go the extra mile and to learn new skills

Essential skills

  • Broad understanding of planning and key planning concepts

A grasp of the various types of planning is an essential quality, Ames says, as it helps to know what pressures other planners are under.

For example, if you know what are the considerations a local authority planner has to take into account, then you will be better able to work with them effectively. Likewise, it helps to have some specific knowledge of the field you are moving into – Ames cites knowledge of freehold and leasehold contracts as essential to his role.

  • Research

An ability to search out answers is a pre-requisite for a third sector planner.“In local authorities there will be someone to ask, but in our area you have to be more proactive,” says Ames.

  • Relationship-building

Being able to build strong working relationships is a major part of the role. Trustees, who are local volunteers and passionate about their community, represent a key relationship in the same way councillors in a local authority are.

There is a significant amount of community engagement, working with community groups, and planners need to be comfortable helping with this, he says.

  • Openness to learning new skills

Multi-disciplinary experience is not something Ames would expect to see at an interview, but being prepared to work on it, again, is important.

Ames’ role encompasses the museums service and a large collection archive, as well as strategic planning and viability, so an ability to take on multi-disciplinary tasks is crucial.

“I supplemented my education by doing a surveying degree. I felt there was a gap [in knowledge] when I was sitting in meetings,” Ames says.

He says planning courses are quite wide ranging now, which helps planners to grasp the multi-disciplinary dimension of work in the third sector.

  • Financial astuteness

“At the Letchworth Heritage Foundation we reinvest our income, and in order to do that we need a reasonable return whilst preserving our objectives for the town. So we need planners who are not hell-bent on squeezing every last penny out of a scheme, and still maintain the heritage,” Ames says.

Types of roles available

Third sector organisations provide planners with a choice of roles, from development management to strategic planning and conservation – and you may have to wear several hats.

Some planners develop involvement in the commercial aspects of a third sector organisation’s work, as viability issues have to be considered. The Letchworth foundation recently appointed an officer from a local authority with conservation experience, to help with listed building restorations.

Planner cover Guide 2015

To read more from the Planner 2015 Guide to Career Development please click here.