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The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

A placement with New Forest National Park Authority

Joseph Owen
Joseph Owen

I’ve been writing up my thesis for more than two years now and have found plenty of opportunities to extend and dramatize the process. This secondment was the latest attempt at delay and procrastination, and by far the most rewarding of all the idling schemes I’ve so far plotted and devised. Firstly, I want to thank Yaryna, my mentor and confidante, who saw enough potential in me for the role, and who subsequently put me in touch with Alison, the chief executive of the New Forest National Park Authority. From our initial meeting, the objectives of the placement were clear: to develop a set of priorities that would constitute a green recovery for South Hampshire. Alison’s input and Yaryna’s advice proved invaluable throughout. If they are grateful for my modest assistance, my gratitude to them is limitless. I’ll be always appreciative of the chance to formulate and refine the policy agenda for our region.

I was immediately tasked with conducting research into relevant environmental standards, holding interviews with key stakeholders, and delivering presentations to officers from local authorities and enterprise partnerships. Together, these activities sought to create an attractive and persuasive package for potential funders and associates, encouraging buy-in for the ‘Greenprint’ from regional partners. Given that much of my work drew on established plans, interested parties could think about how existing and forthcoming projects would fit within the proposed framework. The five settled priorities, by which green initiatives could be measured, were: Net zero with nature; Natural health service; World class blue/green environments; Creating great places through quality in design and build; and the Centre of excellence for green skills and jobs. Part of my responsibility was to articulate these principles, integrating them into a narrative that met the environmental, economic and social aspirations of the region. This is presumably why they resorted to hiring an English postgraduate.

As a student of literature, an oft-derided subject by those who worship at the altar of the social sciences, I faced early scepticism because of my credentials. During my placement, I was able to convince myself and others that basic competency, the ability to follow instructions, cursory self-awareness, and a rudimentary attention to detail were not just the preserve of management types and civil servants. Truly anyone, even a desultory literary scholar, can undertake and finish assignments to an assigned deadline. Within the core steering group, David, from the University of Portsmouth, and Simon, the wearer of many prestigious professional hats, offered avuncular guidance to this relative novice and naïf. Their expert annotations and contributions markedly improved the overall output, and the knowledge they imparted onto me will impress itself long after I conclude my studies. In sum, these types of collaboration benefit both the academy and the public sector.

The work of the South Hampshire ‘Greenprint’ will continue to progress past my placement. Already, it has been a crucial component of the successful Solent Freeport bid. To see such instant results is affirming. I recall the famous idiom of realpolitik, attributed to former New York governor Mario Cuomo, that “you campaign in poetry, and govern in prose”, which, indeed, may be apposite summary for the nature of democratic political action. Yet my experience suggests that these creative forms and utilitarian ideals can be sometimes reconciled, and that the procedure of politics is more akin to a prose poem, fixed and undulating on the conditional tide.


Joseph Owen, PhD student in English, University of Southampton

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