Quod Director, Sue Willcox, in conversation with our new Communications Lead, Claire Quinn, on becoming a new trustee at Design South East.

Sue has over 30 years’ experience in property and has twice been included in the list of Most Influential Women in Planning. She joined Quod in 2013, a specialist, independent consultancy at the cutting edge of planning and development economics. Prior to joining Quod she headed up Sainsbury’s Planning team.

When we met I wanted to understand why the role of trustee at Design South East felt like a good move at such a busy stage in her career. “Design has always been something that interests me,” She said. “I am not a specialist but like many people I appreciate good design, especially when I see a development that has been properly thought through. Becoming a trustee means I can contribute to an organisation that’s helping to improve the quality of new developments.”

Organisations specialising in placemaking and design have seen a rapid growth over the last 10 years so was there something specific about Design South East’s practice that made the role of trustee worthwhile? “It’s an interesting organisation. It’s looking to grow, and that’s exciting. There’s also a renewed emphasis now from government on design with the recent issue of the National Design Guide. This renewed interest in the quality of design links squarely with sustainability measures. Design South East is an organisation providing guidance in these areas and it is something I want to be part of.”

Her professional background and experience means she is a sought after consultant. Sue chaired the BPF planning committee for over 8 years, sat on the Mayor’s Outer London Commission, and has given evidence at inquires and select committees. At Quod Sue provides strategic planning advice and helps clients to manage project teams and we talked about how this background would benefit Design South East’s development. “In my consultancy role we work across all sectors,” she said, “I’m currently seconded to TFL working on a portfolio of sites for new homes around tube stations. I think that this type of public-private sector partnership is essential to unlocking these urban sites and providing new homes. Having this broad mix of public and private sector experience is something that I have found really helpful in taking proposals through the development process.”

Construction, planning and the built environment sector as a whole has evolved across her 30-year career but is it really embracing diversity? “I think the industry as a whole has become more diverse,” said Willcox “I think we are seeing some improvements and a wider range of people heading up organisations. This wider perspective must help to ensure when we‘re improving the environment we’re doing it for everyone.”

She was also keen to point out the wider social and economic benefits of inclusion and representation during regeneration and development. “If you have a range of people that can represent their communities and understand the area in which you’re working then that can help enormously,” She said. “Many of us have been to a design review panel where the discussion will centre around how the scheme relates to the existing built environment and the community that live there. There is the risk that people are not going to be receptive to claims that a new development will deliver placemaking, because the place already exists. It is there; the people who live there already value it and think that others don’t understand what they value about their neighbourhood. It’s more important to think about capturing the essence of an existing area and improving it for those communities, ideally with them.”

While diversity is understandably a must have for any employer its often not well understood or delivered, so what does she think about diversity in action? “Its no longer just about gender and racial diversity, although the industry still needs to work on those. We will all be poorer if we don’t also appreciate the range of skills and talents that people have to offer and embrace different ways of thinking.”

Sue plays an active role in Quod’s management and believes that like many organisations, its strength is in its people. With her appointment as a trustee she aims to help Design South East strengthen it’s most valuable asset. “Throughout my career I have picked up a lot of experience, about investing in people and how to improve organisations and hopefully make them as good as they can be. The best organisations think about what makes people want to stay with them. If your aspiration is to grow then you do need to make sure you attract the right people and retain them. So I will be helping Design South East to think about this in the context of their business goals. Hopefully in a way which will create a flexible and responsive working environment for its people so that it is able to attract and retain a diverse range of talent.”