As a young boy, one of my favourite things to do was design buildings. I would draw them endlessly, make them out of Lego, or even build them out of sand on trips to the seaside! I would consume copious books about architecture and planning. I even had a scrapbook collecting newspaper articles on development!
Things really were different before social media and smart phones…
However, once I headed towards the end of secondary school it was clear that my academic results didn’t match my passion for architecture and town planning! Encouraged to make decisions about my further education and career path at the age of 16, I decided that a career in property and development probably wasn’t for me.
Fast-forward a few years and I had graduated with a degree in History and Politics and fell straight into a job working for an MP in Westminster. 21 years old is far too young to provide any meaningful advice to a sixty-something former Government Minister. However, I certainly learnt a lot.
I soon moved from the House of Commons to the Town Hall and the first thing I noticed about the difference between central and local Government was that change was more immediate. Rather than spending years on the passage of a Parliamentary Bill, I could help enact policies that could be implemented within weeks.
Unfortunately, after the financial crisis there wasn’t much money to be spent on exciting new local initiatives. Instead, my role had increasingly become focussed on cost-cutting exercises. Trying to entrepreneurialise librarians and commercialise parks wasn’t what I’d signed-up for (neither had they), so I decided to try my luck in the private sector.
I joined a national public relations agency and was excited to educate clients on political matters and advance my creative writing skills. However, what I had not expected, was to be working on so many accounts related to property and development. I found that my work with developers had re-ignited my passion for architecture and planning.
Utilising my knowledge of the political sphere and public sector challenges, I was able to translate and interpret many of my developer clients’ ambitions into local authority language. Often, I found that applicants and planning authorities often wanted the same things, they just didn’t speak the same vernacular. It was my job to explore synergies, to ensure that shared visions could be aligned and compromises could be achieved.
Twenty years after assuming property and development wasn’t going to be the path for me, I find myself working for a property developer! I bring with me the ability to see things from different sides; from the point-of-view of the community, councils and local elected representatives. I lead on engagement, but also social value; ensuring that the work we do at Socius delivers genuine long-term benefits, such as local employment and skills opportunities and improvements in community health and wellbeing.
I first became a public servant because I wanted to improve people’s lives. I didn’t realise that I could have just as much impact, sometimes more, working for a private mixed-use developer; delivering jobs, homes, new community spaces and environmental improvements.
Like many of the team at Socius, I don’t come from a property background and I didn’t even realise that there were roles like mine available in the industry. I feel privileged to be doing a job I love and following a passion I’ve had since childhood. It feels even more exciting to get to where I wanted to be by taking such a ‘scenic route’!