Regeneration Manager at Sandwell Council
Graduated in 2012
Former Spatial Planning MA student Jenna Langford graduated from BCU in 2012. Since graduating Jenna has continued to work for Sandwell Council and has been awarded the Regional Young Planner of the Year 2018 by The Royal Town Planning Institute, West Midlands. We spoke with Jenna about how her studies have shaped her professional life.
What course did you choose to study and why?
I chose to study an MA in Spatial Planning. I had worked within Regeneration at Sandwell Council as a Project Manager since 2008, but when government austerity measures came in 2010, I was facing the risk of redundancy. However, my Director at the time didn’t want to lose me and recognised that I had the potential to become a town planner. I was then offered the opportunity to study the MA to qualify as a town planner and change my career direction.
Why did you choose BCU?
I had studied at BCU when it was known as UCE, so I was already familiar with the university. The city centre campus was ideal for me as it is adjacent to vast sites with regeneration opportunities like East Side and HS2.
When you started university, did you know what you wanted to do as a career?
I returned to university as I knew Planning was what I wanted to do. Since I had no educational background in the field, I had zero confidence that I would be able to achieve my MA. I only had experience of working within the field of regeneration. However, the support I received from lecturers was impeccable and there was a real sense of camaraderie amongst the student body. We all had different specialisms and skills, and time restraints as many of us were in full time employment. By supporting one another we were able to pull through. As a result, I graduated with a first class MA and am still friends with my peers and lecturers.
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Was there a particular module that sparked an interest in a topic you’d never considered before?
All the modules were interesting to me as I had no previous education in this field, only my experience. The most interesting to me was the Development module, where we were asked to develop regeneration schemes for Sutton Coldfield town centre. The skills I learned in this module are particularly pertinent in my career.
What is your current job role?
Once I graduated in 2012, my role converted from Project Officer to Planning Officer. I became a Chartered Town Planner with the RTPI in 2015, having completed the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC). I had started to seek other employment opportunities in 2017, as I was keen to progress in my career, but a common problem of working in Local Government is that career progression is limited and slow. However, in 2018 there was a restructure where the Planning Regeneration Team was merged with the Business Growth Team to create the Regeneration & Growth Team. I was successful in my application to be the Regeneration Manager leading the new team and have been in post since June 2018. It has been a great year and in October I was recognised by the West Midlands RTPI and awarded Regional Young Planner of the Year 2018 for my commitment to promoting Planning as a career to young people.
What is the most challenging aspect of your current role?
Sandwell is a Metropolitan Borough of the Black Country, an area famed for its industrial heritage. However, this heritage makes regeneration work particularly challenging as sites are often unviable and therefore very difficult to bring forward. Sandwell has an ambitious regeneration agenda which I am now responsible for delivering with the help of my fantastic team. The planning landscape is changing, and more and more Planners need to be aware of viability and commercial issues to overcome barriers of delivering regeneration. Most of all it is important to remember we are not just delivering housing but creating communities and places.
What main skill from your university days will you take with you through your life?
Aside from the planning expertise, team working, communication and leadership.
How has your life changed since you have graduated?
My life has changed dramatically since graduating from BCU. I don’t just have a fantastic job, I have a career, ambition and passion for raising aspirations of communities and the quality of the built environment.