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Planning for the future in Berkshire

Mia Foord
By Mia Foord

At CPRE, we believe good planning is at the heart of making sure the places we live are good for people and nature. We spoke to Jacob Roberts, a planning volunteer with CPRE Berkshire, whose efforts are not only benefiting the future of the Berkshire countryside, but also his future career.

After graduating from his undergraduate Human Geography degree in May 2023, Jacob was looking for opportunities. ‘I had a bit of time to spare, aside from working part-time as a tutor and studying my postgraduate degree in Law. I was looking to gain some volunteer experience either in law or environmental fields, to build on my knowledge from university and develop my skills.’

During his search, Jacob came across his current role as a planning volunteer with CPRE Berkshire: ‘I liked the fact that the role seemed flexible and not a huge obligation’. Jacob monitors planning application sites and identifies key plans in Berkshire that require attention: ‘I basically have to try and make sure that nothing important slips through the net.’

He then shares and discusses these applications with his supervisor and conducts further investigative research into those that are of high interest. ‘It’s a varied role that’s flexible; I just apply a lot of the skills I gained during my degree,’ he says.

Growing up in the countryside

Having lived in the countryside since he was a child, Jacob has a deep appreciation for nature and the outdoors. ‘I really enjoy being in nature,’ he explains. ‘I love to get outside and go for walks with my dogs and play golf and football with my friends. I think most of my hobbies are out in the countryside!’

'Every year I appreciate the countryside even more'

Like many of us, Jacob finds that being in nature really benefits his wellbeing. ‘I go into the countryside whenever I feel stressed’, he says. However, he adds: ‘this can be such a passive thing that we all do, without recognising the value of being able to do this.’ In the face of the numerous threats impacting the countryside, Jacob feels that there’s complacency. ‘Many of us take the countryside for granted and don’t expect it to change. Every year I appreciate the countryside even more.’

Indeed, as he grew up, Jacob found that his home village was expanding: ‘I noticed new developments being built, with parks and green spaces being overlooked and encroached on by new estates.’ Jacob gained a first-hand understanding of the fragility of the countryside in his local area, which has helped inspire his passion for protecting it: ‘I’ve grown up surrounded by nature- the countryside is my home, so I want to protect it,’ he says.

When Jacob decided to go to university, he moved away from his rural village to live in a large city. He explains that ‘it made me notice how silent it was sleeping back home’ and helped him realise how much ‘I like the peace and quiet that you find in the countryside’. After graduating, Jacob moved back to the countryside; ‘I live in a village now and I love it!’

However, despite loving his rural life, there are issues. ‘Public transport in and out of areas like my village isn’t great. Young people might feel trapped when living in the countryside for this reason, especially those who have gone to university and then returned home.’ At CPRE, we advocate for local, sustainable public transport, to help reduce isolation and increase access and connectivity for everyone. Jacob believes that if such changes were realised, it would greatly benefit young people living in the countryside like him: ‘I think improvements to rural public transport would be really helpful.’

Learning from others

Volunteering can provide a brilliant opportunity to make connections with those within and beyond your local community. For Jacob, being able to learn from his peers at CPRE Berkshire has been invaluable. ‘I’ve loved learning from my supervisor and the other people I volunteer with; the role is really fulfilling, and everyone is super thankful,’ he says. During his first few months, Jacob came across a lot of jargon when reviewing planning applications which he found hard to understand, but thankfully has had help. ‘My supervisor or one of the other volunteers were always there to answer my questions.’

'I've really enjoyed understanding the planning application process more and learning what to look out for'

As Jacob highlights, volunteering can provide a window for knowledge and skill-sharing, acknowledging that in some volunteering fields ‘there aren’t many young people, but this creates a great learning opportunity for a young person entering this space.’ He adds: ‘you’re surrounded by people who have a lot of knowledge and skills, which they can pass on to you. I’ve really enjoyed understanding the planning application process more and learning what to look out for.’

In the future, Jacob is keen to pursue environmental law and he feels his volunteer experience with CPRE will support him on this journey: ‘I know I’m developing skills that will help me later in my career and that feels really good.’

Jacob believes in the value of volunteering for young people. ‘I don’t see a negative to it,’ he says. ‘They’re happy for you to try, even if you’re worried about how much time you can give. You often get more out of it than CPRE; there are so many benefits to you.’

Volunteering that’s flexible

Jacob’s planning role is remote, which means that despite not currently living in Berkshire, he can still volunteer remotely and travel down for occasional in-person meetings.

Alongside volunteering, Jacob juggles many other commitments, including studying for his master’s degree and working a part-time job. He tells us: ‘My supervisor is really understanding of the fact that some weeks I can devote a lot of time and other weeks I can’t, and that sometimes I might miss an email. It’s less pressured than paid work- I was worried that it would turn into more of an obligation, but it hasn’t.’

‘If anything, this had made me even more motivated to continue volunteering.’

Find out more

You can find out more about CPRE Berkshire by visiting their website. If you think you’d like to volunteer for CPRE like Jacob and stand with the countryside, take a look at our volunteering pages and current opportunities, or get in touch with us at

Photo of Jacob stood in front of some bamboo
Jacob Roberts


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