Women in Planning
Day in the Life Of...Leticia (Coco) Mandra
A bit of an unusual background. I grew up in Patagonia, Argentina (remote!) and moved to Buenos Aires to study law right after finishing school. I later moved to London to do a master’s degree at King’s College London and once my course was completed, I had a job offer to work with one of London’s leading Planning law practitioners. Before I started working there, I didn’t really know what planning was, I had never heard about it, my background was in intellectual property law… But a love for architecture, sociology and the city dynamics meant that I knew that was for me straight away. I worked for local government (London Borough of Hackney, Hammersmith, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster), private practice and finished my journey in London working for the Treasury Solicitor (Government Legal Department) acting for PINS and MHCLG on planning litigation matters. I moved to Bristol almost 2 years ago, like so many others before and after me, looking the proximity to the countryside for easy weekend escapades, a more affordable property market (just about really) and to reduce the commute! All of which has happened.
In Bristol, I work for Clarke Willmott Solicitors acting for developers, landowners and local authorities on all sorts of planning matters (both contentious and non-contentious)
Setting up the South West branch of Women in Planning together with other amazing women has been the best way to get to know people.
What does your typical working day look like?
My current working day is not exactly as my typical working day, as it is the case for all of us during the lockdown. This will change even more in less than 3 months with the arrival of the twins that I’m currently carrying. But here I go anyway:
I have quite a bit of “me time” before I start my working day: I read for about 30 to 40 minutes and then I do a morning walk for about the same time listening to different podcasts (confessed addict). I am quite active and this is my mechanism for coping with a job that requires me to sit all day in front of a computer with a high degree of concentration.
I start my working day setting out some sort of “to-do” list, sometimes more realistic than others, but the day does not always run as smoothly and organised as I would like to which means that the working hours can sometimes extend beyond what I planned.
After work, I am now doing a bit of exercise either in a fixed bike or a yoga class via Zoom (this is completely new for me). Before the lockdown I used to attend many social and work events (usually involving some sort of alcoholic beverage); do ceramics or go to the gym.
In the evening I have dinner with my partner and try not to talk about work if possible. He is a town planner and the lines between home and work are sometimes a bit blurry (usually my fault!). We watch something and I use that time get some knitting done.
How do you unwind on an evening or weekend?
One of the reasons I (we) decided to move to Bristol was to enjoy outdoors life more. I love going out for long walks over the weekend, discover new places and breath in as much nature as I can
I read (books non-work related) as much as I can. If the weather allows it I do some gardening; I do pottery when I can and I try to see friends (although this has not been an option under the current circumstances).
What is the most rewarding project you have worked on?
I cannot single out one project in particular, but I really enjoy the contentious side of my work. I find appeals or any judicial proceedings very rewarding. I enjoy the planning, the strategy and the adrenaline that comes with the uncertainty. In particular, I really enjoy when the outcome has a direct tangible impact on the dynamics or aesthetics of an area.
I had only been in the UK a couple of months when the solicitor I was working for was involved in the Planning Inquiry for Smithfield Market in London. It was fascinating to see how so many disciplines can interact with each other to put together a case in favour of preserving local heritage.
What are the best and worst bits about your job?
Let’s start with the worse side of things: the financial pressure of knowing that this is essentially a business can be difficult to reconcile with the core planning/legal work. We don’t get much training on that side of things at university and it can be challenging at best.
The best part is to solve problems in order to help. I genuinely enjoy spending hours researching the best solution and facilitating projects.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why?
My parents. They taught me that I could do anything I put my head on as long as I worked hard for it. Whilst that has not always been the case, I walked into adulthood unaware of gender inequality and any kind of discrimination. Whilst it didn’t take long for me to be confronted with this, having been brought up like that meant that I had (and have) very little patience for that kind of behaviour and I try to push back as much as I can.
What is the best piece of advice you have received in your career?
Don’t try to rush things! Everything comes at the right time. More often than not, it really pays off to sit tight and be patience. There’s not a day when I don’t remind myself of this.
What is your favourite place?
The mountains and lakes of Patagonia. I can almost feel the clean air in my face, the colours around me, taste the amazing food and daydream of some quality time with my family.