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Career Development: How to benefit from entering awards

A variety of built environment awards are handed out every year by organisations such as the RTPI and RIBA. Is this just backslapping, or are there genuine benefits to be gained from entering projects for awards?  David Blackman weighs up the pros and cons

“When you’re doing the day job you just get on with it” says Helen Martin, head of planning at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council.

However, while presenting her department’s work on regenerating Dudley town centre to colleagues at the authority, she realised that the team had achieved something that deserved wider recognition.

“We’ve created an environment where there is private sector interest and they are now starting to pick up the baton,” she says.

Add the way the council involved the local community and Martin felt there was a strong case for submitting an application to last year’s RTPI Awards.

Her hunch was correct. The team carried off the award for Excellence in Planning for Built Heritage at last year’s ceremony, a reward for 15 years of hard work in the town centre.

The RTPI Awards, alongside those organised by the likes of RIBA and RICS, acknowledge planning’s role in delivering better quality environments. For winners – and even those shortlisted – there may be a variety of benefits, ranging from the glow of recognition to a higher profile among potential clients and investors.

But entering for awards can be a daunting prospect. There’s no guarantee of success and, of course, preparing applications can be time-consuming.

Is it worth it?

The benefits

1/ Higher profile
Winning awards is always a good calling card when seeking investment or trying to attract top-quality talent to your organisation.

Martin says her department has secured a higher profile following its success at last year’s RTPI Awards.

“Inside the organisation it has massively helped to increase the profile of the planning service. It’s given us more visibility, so it’s easier for people to understand why we are here and what we do.

“Particularly if you work in development management you tend to get the bad press and senior managers find out about things when they have gone wrong or people complain,” she continues. “It’s quite nice to have a good news item which helps people see why we have planning policies and development management.”

And this can only help when battling to maintain existing services, she adds: “It does help to defend your service from losing resources because people understand the importance of it.”

2/ Team building
A fillip for the team is one of the chief benefits of winning or even being shortlisted for an award. Martin says: “For the individuals involved, it was hugely positive to get some recognition from inside and outside the organisation that we have done a good job. On an individual level, it has hugely boosted morale.”

3/ More work
For those working in the private sector, the big incentive when entering awards is the prospect of winning new contracts. Riette Oosthuizen heads the planning team at architect HTA Design, which won last year’s RTPI Excellence in Planning for the Natural Environment award for its work on Hanham Hall, Barratt Homes’ flagship zero-carbon housing scheme in the Bristol outskirts (below).false

She believes that the award has bolstered the practice’s credibility when competing for jobs against the larger commercial consultancies.

“It’s been fantastic because we are a small planning practice and we quite often come up against the big commercial practices when we are trying to win work. This type of exposure has meant a lot for us.”

“It’s given us more visibility, so it’s easier for people to understand why we are here and what we do”

4/ Good marketing
Winning a high-profile award will showcase your organisation’s work to a wider audience by generating publicity.

Aled Lloyd, head of planning at the Snowdonia National Park Authority, says that winning a UK-wide award (see box) helped get across the message that planning can be a positive activity.

“We tend to be seen as rejecting most applications, so this was a good opportunity to showcase that we do approve good new developments, which are sustainable, in the national park. People appreciate that we need good-quality development in this rural area and are now more prepared to adapt their plans.”

5/ Appraising the organisation
A rigorous awards application process can give organisations an incentive to appraise how they are doing their job, a luxury often not available on a day-to-day basis, providing a new perspective.

Martin says: “It gave us time to reflect on what we had achieved, how it worked and why it was successful.”

The costs

A word of warning: entering awards can be a time-consuming process, which can distract attention from bread-and-butter activities.

Being shortlisted for an award will often generate additional demands for material.

But at least in the case of the RTPI Awards, Snowdonia’s Lloyd says the application process was “straightforward” and “quite enjoyable”, with the whole team pitching in to help. 

Is my project worth entering for an award


Some organisations enter every award process going, while others never trouble the judges. The danger of the latter course is that good work never gets the recognition it deserves. The flipside is that those who enter in a more scattergun fashion are seeking recognition for doing their job. So how do you know that your project is worth entering for an award?

Snowdonia’s Aled Lloyd felt that, although the authority’s Craig y Deryn primary school project was small-scale, it deserved wider recognition. The scheme on the edge of the village of Llanegryn had to overcome hurdles, involving as it did the consolidation of four existing schools onto a single site.

Its confidence boosted by winning the Wales Planning Award, the national park authority submitted an application for the 2015 UK-wide awards, in which it won the Excellence in Planning for Community and Well-Being category.

“We looked at the criteria in a detailed way and considered that we met them, which pushed us to go for it,” says Lloyd. 

Awards: Top tips for success

(1) Read the criteria
It may sound obvious, but focus on what the judges are actually asking for in the judging criteria. Another thing to bear in mind for those entering more than one award is that it’s not good enough to copy and paste from one form to another – the judges will notice.

Helen Martin says: “You can’t just simply resubmit, you have to totally unpick it. Everybody has different criteria, so you have to start from scratch. And always back up claims with evidence, especially when seeking to demonstrate innovation or a beneficial impact.

(2) Keep it simple
Make sure the submission is succinct, clear and easy to understand. Too many award entries are stuffed with corporate jargon. Aled Lloyd says Snowdonia followed this mantra when submitting its successful entry for last year’s RTPI awards. “We didn’t use too much planning jargon. We asked a non-planner to look at our submission, which was quite useful.”

(3) Don’t be put off
And if you don’t win first time, don’t give up. The trick is to learn from the process. Lloyd insists that it is worthwhile for any organisation, no matter how small, to enter for the RTPI awards. “Don’t be put off by the big authorities; small authorities have as much chance as anybody else. The criteria are relatively clear – go for it.” 

Image credit | Shuttershock