A sneaky peek behind the doors of an industry dinner… by Kim Miller

I recently went along to the South West RTPI annual dinner to find out what goes on, who turns up and what the hospitality is like at Somerset County Cricket Club.

Thanks very much to Helen Clarke for organising an enjoyable event, and to the South West Young Planners’ Steering Group for letting me join their table and providing entertainment late into the evening.

So what goes on?

The annual dinner brought together the regional industry to round up the year and celebrate our shared achievements and challenges. The evening kicked off with a drinks reception and a quick pose for the official photographer before heading to our tables for dinner. From here the format was something like a wedding reception (or any other industry dinner I imagine), with a three course meal followed by speeches and some social mingling. I was a little surprised by the reading of grace before the meal. However, this blog probably isn’t the place for musings about the ambiguous secular/non-secular positioning of our national institutions (or perhaps it is?) so I’ll park that for the timebeing! Kelvin MacDonald delivered a highly entertaining after dinner speech including an insight into the heritage of our chosen trade and a welcome critique of Eric Pickles’ planning reforms. I did have to forgo the last train to Bristol in order to see this through to the end – so another thank you is in order here to YP Charlotte for giving me a lift home.

Who turns up?

The YP’s table had people from a good mix of professional backgrounds, including current staff from local authorities, planning consultancies and the Planning Inspectorate. Elsewhere there seemed to be a good turn out from the private sector, planning academics, people directly involved in the institute’s affairs and at least one of the region’s big players in planning law. However I felt that the public sector – local authorities, government agencies and the like – were underrepresented and I thought that was a bit of a shame. As a local authority employee I can perhaps understand some of the reasons for a low turnout. Nevertheless I do feel that there is something to be gained for all planners by attending an industry event. If the immediate benefits of networking are not apparent to all then there is also a sense of industry togetherness and, dare I say it, common cause, which can be hard to find at the coal face. It is interesting and enlightening to talk to planners who work in a different context or sector about their working practices and to gain a renewed appreciation of the breadth of the industry and discipline. The RTPI also has a role to play in ensuring that its events are (and are perceived to be) accessible and welcoming to all of the professional interests it represents.

And finally the hospitality…

The food and wine and facilities were all excellent – so a final thank you to RTPI SW and Somerset CCC!

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