A warm welcome in South Yorkshire

Avatar for Rebecca Bentley
By Rebecca Bentley

Rebecca Bentley was looking for more experience in planning to help her with her studies. She’s found a volunteer role at CPRE South Yorkshire has really worked for her — and for her local group.

After finishing three years at university, I realised that I didn’t feel confident in finding a job without having more experience. I googled ‘environmental planning roles in Yorkshire’, and an ad for a planning officer within the South Yorkshire county group came up. Although I wasn’t fully qualified, I emailed the director Tomo Thompson about the possibility of some work experience while I study for my masters degree.

Much to my delight, I got an instant reply and began a year’s placement in August 2019. CPRE South Yorkshire is based in Sheffield, which makes it even easier for me as my masters is in urban planning at the University of Sheffield. I’d realised very quickly that my main passion in terms of planning was environmental protection and conservation through the use of sustainable planning. I’ve tailored my degree and modules to focus on environmental concerns, such as flooding and climate change, alongside looking at policies that can be used to address issues like these.

After travelling to Rotterdam to study the Netherlands’ approach to flooding from sea level rise, I decided to do my dissertation on how the UK public can take responsibility for their personal flood risk during a time of extreme climate stress.

Connected to the countryside

I was fortunate enough to grow up in rural Derbyshire in a beautiful village surrounded by open fields, and spent my childhood enjoying everything that the countryside has to offer. When I moved to Sheffield, I realised how much I had taken this for granted.

'Experiencing the countryside in all its glory made me feel very passionate about its protection and conservation, and is probably the main reason for my passion in environmental planning.'

I’m almost ashamed to say that I felt living ‘in the middle of nowhere’ was a burden when I was in the sixth form, and I couldn’t wait to move to somewhere where the buses ran more than once an hour. But once I moved to the city, I missed those rural surroundings! Experiencing the countryside in all its glory made me feel very passionate about its protection and conservation, and is probably the main reason for my passion for environmental planning.

What I do

I try and get into the office once a week in order to monitor the weekly planning lists for seven local authorities in South Yorkshire, including Sheffield and The Peak District National Park. My role is to scan the lists for any worrying applications that might put the environment at risk. These can include large residential developments that don’t have carbon offsetting, or new road systems running through the unspoilt countryside. I’ve attended training courses, site visits and public consultations, and have even been assigned a personal mentor that teaches me about the role.

'I think the best feeling that comes with the experience is the feeling of making a positive difference in South Yorkshire.'

In my short time at CPRE, the countryside charity, I’ve learnt so much more than I’d ever hoped. I’ve been supported in learning more about the planning system and how to protect the countryside through sustainable development. Not only have I learnt about the real world of planning, I’ve also been able to improve my work at university with examples from my placement. And I’ve particularly enjoyed the site visits, being able to put perspective into reality. From these visits, I’ve attended public consultations that allowed me to engage with the public. I think the best feeling that comes with the experience is the feeling of making a positive difference in South Yorkshire.

New friends, new skills

I’d encourage anyone to volunteer with CPRE – it’s been such a rewarding experience. You’ll make new friends, learn new and relevant things, and become part of a team that helps to protect the English countryside. I cannot recommend volunteering with your local group enough.

Could you spare some time to volunteer for your local CPRE and stand with the countryside that you love? Learn more about the experience of volunteering for CPRE, the countryside charity, or drop us a line: volunteeringteam@cpre.org.uk.

Rebecca working at desk
Rebecca checking in on planning applications Julie Gough