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Guest blog: Valeria Passetti reflects on RIBA 'Town Hall' meetings

19 May 2020

Architect and RIBA Board member responsible for Member Development, Valeria Passetti, shares some of the things she’s learned since the launch of virtual ‘Town Hall’ meetings with members.

‘We must harness the strength of our membership and be guided by the experts amongst us’

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has forced us to rethink the way we connect with each other as RIBA members.

Since I became Vice President Membership, it’s been a personal mission of mine to improve the line of communication between fellow members and the RIBA. The current crisis has provided us with the opportunity to trial different forms of meeting with one another, sharing experiences and expertise. For the RIBA, it is vital to maintain contact with the membership and ensure information lines are open to receive and respond to member concerns.

Over the past month, with the Nations and Regions staff, we have launched and hosted a series of virtual ‘Town Hall’ meetings. Open to all members, the meetings have been hosted by regional chair representatives and each saw between 25-50 members take part. The sessions provided members with direct access to RIBA experts and senior staff, allowing them to hear more about RIBA’s work behind the scenes and giving them the opportunity to ask questions, which will help to shape RIBA policies and strategies.

While the problems faced by members ranged regionally, some common themes emerged:

  • Many requested advice around using government support schemes, with many practices furloughing staff
  • Issues with gaps in the current schemes with some self-employed workers ineligible to claim any financial support
  • Problems with building sites and access to construction materials
  • Issues with Contract Law
  • Issues with being able to acquire Professional Indemnity Insurance
  • Issues with the planning system (although this varied significantly from region to region)

These specific concerns were then addressed in a roundtable attended by government department representatives – chaired by the RIBA’s Policy Team.

So, what next?

Many will be pleased to hear that the ‘Town Hall’ meetings won’t end there. Over the coming weeks and months we plan to host more sessions to discuss the return to working on site, re-opening offices and transitioning into our ‘new normal’.

We’ll focus on concerns around safety in the workplace and the use of public transport; organisational support around shift working and difficulties connected to school return for parents. We will also look at the fear of a recession decreasing workload for smaller practices and larger practices concerns around staff retention. There is also fear that panic after the crisis could drive fees further down; the uncertainties around the schools of architecture and future students and how to support recent graduates who are at risk of not being able to enter the profession of their choice. The sharing of experiences and expertise of our membership is invaluable during this challenging time.

The ‘Town Hall’ meetings have also shown that it’s not all bleak. Out of necessity come opportunities and our members are inspirational, resilient and full of initiatives. Some have already started organising mentoring schemes where members who survived previous recessions are helping those who have yet to lead practices through such times. Others see this crisis as an opportunity to pause and make changes to the way we practice.

This has been a life changing experience for us all, one that has highlighted the failings in the environment we inhabit but also shown us how a different way to look at pressing challenges like the climate crisis, is possible.

The energy I have seen during the ‘Town Hall’ meetings has made me realise this is our opportunity to re-build a resilient, sustainable future and redefine the role of architects as thought leaders who drive positive change. It might be tough out there now – and in weeks and months to come – but with the strength of our membership and the guidance of experts amongst us we will be able to overcome the challenges we face.

Valeria Passetti is an architect, VP Membership, RIBA Board member for Member Development and MD of Conception Architects.

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