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New Public Practice intake joins frontline fight against Covid-19

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Public Practice has said its latest 39-strong intake of architects to be embedded in local government planning departments will ‘bolster councils’ capacity to respond to the coronavirus crisis’

The pioneering social enterprise, which organises the placements of architects into local authorities roles, has said many of those placed in earlier waves were already involved in the frontline fight against Covid-19.

Since its launch in early 2018, Public Practice has helped embed 123 associates in 42 local authorities. Nine in 10 of these architects have decided to staying in the public sector after their one-year fixed-term contracts were up.

This will be the fourth cohort arranged by the ‘broker’ and will see architects employed across 22 councils.

Public Practice said previous cohorts were adapting to the coronavirus crisis, which has seen more than 20,000 deaths across the UK and most of the country placed on lockdown.

Public practice spring 2020 cohort placements map

Public practice spring 2020 cohort placements map

Public Practice - Spring 2020 cohort placements map

A spokesperson said architects were working in new roles as ‘agile project managers, planners and designers’ helping councils respond to the challenge.

Magali Thomson (pictured), a former director at MarksBarfield Architects, is currently project lead for place making at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

In the past month she has switched to work on travel planning for frontline NHS workers, liaising with local organisations to ensure safe routes, car parking spaces and hotel rooms.

Public Practice board member Sarah Cary said: ‘I am incredibly proud of my colleagues and contacts across the public sector who have stepped up in challenging times with new solutions and ways of working to keep services going for businesses and residents.

‘The Spring 2020 associates are joining, virtually, at a time when the public sector is more vital than ever. I have no doubt they will improve the future of the places they serve.’

There was record interest in the latest wave of placements, with more than 70 organisations expressing interest and in excess of 300 individuals applying.

Almost one in five associates in the Spring 2020 cohort come from a BAME background. Seven in 10 are women.

We need to strengthen councils’ capacity to lead a national recovery

Public Practice chief executive Finn Williams said: ‘Over the last few weeks we’ve witnessed the extraordinary strengths of local government through our network of associates and authorities.

‘We’ve also seen an unprecedented shift in public and political opinion about the value of public service. The answer to this crisis cannot be further austerity – we need to reward councils for their role in the response to Covid-19, and strengthen their capacity to lead a national recovery.’

What have architects on the Public Practice programme been doing?

Ted Maxwell

He has been responsible for managing the regeneration of Oxford Covered Market for Oxford City Council, working on a project to sustain and improve the status of the listed building as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the city centre.

With the market currently closed, Ted’s ’entrepreneurial and project management skills’ have been swiftly redeployed to leading a number of pilot schemes for the council’s economic development and city centre management teams. One of these is a rapidly evolving scheme to support fresh food traders to change to an online home delivery service. The goal is to encourage a more reliable food supply for residents and help local businesses to become more resilient for the longer-term.

Magali Thomson

She has spent the past six months leading the transformation of the public realm around the new Children’s Cancer Centre at Great Ormond Street Hospital. The last month has seen her role change into travel planning for frontline NHS workers, liaising with existing contacts at Camden Council, as well as contacting local hotels and organisations such as the Knowledge Quarter, and using spatial planning to ensure staff have safe routes to work.

Through the Public Practice network, Magali has been able to share her experience with other associates, allowing her to reach a wider pool of contacts, including National Car Parks, which has proved invaluable in sourcing much-needed parking spaces.

Michael Kennedy

He is working as a senior urban designer at Enfield, where his role involves leading the Council’s Place and Design Quality Review Panel. The panel usually conducts four or five reviews a month, and so far has continued to do so under lockdown, with meetings now taking place virtually.

While a site visit is normally a crucial part of any design review panel, Michael and his team have worked to find alternatives, using Google Street View to assess sites, and holding meetings via Microsoft Teams. 

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