Volunteering tales from the north east

Avatar for Richard Cowen
By Richard Cowen

Richard Cowen has been volunteering for CPRE Durham for some 20 years. He shares a little about his volunteering role and some of his highlights.

I take enjoyment – perhaps unusually! – in constructing letters in response to the planning applications that could have significant negative impacts, and also in considering draft Local Plans.

I chair the North East regional meetings as well as agreeing the agenda, checking draft minutes and generally advising on administrative issues, including the regional newsletter.

I consider the weekly planning application lists for County Durham and assess which of them may require a response. People from other council areas also contact me for advice with their concerns.

Building a better future

A highlight of being involved with CPRE was the first County Durham Plan, back in 2014. There were some concerns about the plan and we worked with others to put forward a strong case for changes – so strong that the inspector accepted virtually all of our points.

We had some worries about the second plan, too. Once again, thanks to the collaboration with other groups, we were successful in seeing the council make changes on some controversial issues, although sadly this time our arguments relating to the loss of some major green spaces did not prevail. Nevertheless, we consider that we now have an acceptable plan that we can live with. Preparing for this, and other examinations in our area, was a major challenge.

The benefits of volunteering

Volunteering keeps me mentally active. We may not always succeed in what we’re asking for, but I always feel that our point of view should be heard and at least taken into consideration.

'I’ve made many friends through CPRE, and it’s also enhanced my appreciation of the whole of our area.'

I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. I love hill walking, cycling and bird watching. While it’s possible to do at least some of this in an urban setting, doing it in the countryside is so much better.

I’ve made many friends through CPRE, and it’s also enhanced my appreciation of the whole of our area. I’ve cycled or walked throughout virtually all of County Durham, as well as much of Northumberland, and feel I can say that I know what the general area looks like when I look at any planning application.

Local knowledge

I hope I make decision-makers at least think about what they are doing, and hope that we get better results that keep the countryside a better, indeed improved, place for everyone to enjoy.

The pandemic has shown the importance of the countryside and the biodiversity in it. I’m always happy to share my knowledge, so I often write articles for our village newsletter, our bird club and RSPB newsletters and of course, our CPRE newsletter. I hope this helps to inform people what’s happening in the area and help them appreciate what’s there.

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.

Richard Cowen and friends
Richard Cowen (far right) and friends Phil Ashmore