Jo Westlake

 Jo Westlake.jpg

BA Hons, Language and Communication, 2006

Senior Communications Officer at Natural Resources Wales

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From a young age I’ve always loved to write and be creative. This degree offered me the opportunity to delve deeper into the workings of language and how we use it in society, covering modules in sociolinguistics, psychology and media studies. 

Many students on the course were steering towards a career in teaching, particularly Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), but I wanted to start a career where my language skills could benefit people in other ways.

I chose to pursue a career in PR and communications, securing a temporary role working on environment and climate change PR for Welsh Government. 

I then progressed onto a PR consultancy where I worked on a number of accounts for environmental organisations in both the private and third sector.

I currently work as a senior communications officer at Natural Resources Wales. I joined Environment Agency Wales in 2009, and in 2013 we merged with Forestry Commission Wales and Countryside Council for Wales to form Natural Resources Wales.

During this time I’ve covered various roles including stakeholder communications officer, press officer, events manager and social media manager. What I currently do involves a bit of everything – promoting the hard work carried out by our staff to protect our environment here in Wales.

Pre-Covid-19 our biggest priorities as an organisation were the climate and nature emergencies. 

That hasn’t changed, but over the course of the year so much else in the world has changed. Rightly so, health and the economy has been the focus of Government as we continue to tackle the global pandemic. But the threats posed by climate change are as real as ever, and the challenge for people working in the environmental sector (and communications professionals) is to ensure that these are not forgotten.

There are few positives that can be taken from the pandemic which has wreaked havoc across the globe, but from an environmental perspective, the national lockdown over the summer forced a temporary pause to life as we knew it. Though its not a situation we’d have ever chosen, it has given us opportunity to rethink the way we live our lives and the impact we make on the planet – a once in lifetime opportunity to make fundamental changes for the benefit of the planet and future generations.

The skillset required for PR and communications professionals has changed dramatically in my time within the industry, and will continue to change as digital technology continues to evolve and people’s behaviours change as a result. 

So, first of all, we need to be resilient to change and committed to our own learning and personal development so we can grow and change with our industry.

At its core – I’d say it’s essential for professional communicators to have strong copywriting skills, an eye for a good story, the ability to multi-task and self-organise (often managing multiple deadlines!) good interpersonal skills and a clear grasp on the digital landscape.

Technology is continuously changing how we work, and the communicator’s challenge is to try and keep up with it! When I joined the organisation in 2009 we didn’t even have a social media presence. Now, we deal with hundreds of customer enquiries a week through Facebook and Twitter, and use social channels to deliver important public information. During Storm Dennis in February, we reached over 5million people with important flood warning messages through social media alone. 

People now use digital tools to report pollution incidents to us, to register for waste licences and to check if their home is at risk of flooding. This digital shift will only continue to accelerate, and it’s important for us as a public sector organisation to continue to meet the demand.

I think right now it’s a tough time for everyone in all industries. 

It sounds like a cliché, but for me what’s most important is that I work for an organisation that I can be passionate about, where I feel that I can contribute and make a difference.

Like most people, covid-19 has drastically changed the way we work as an organisation. 

My role has been incredibly easy to adapt to working from home, but many of my colleagues are used to working in the field, managing our many forestry sites and nature reserves, attending to environmental incidents etc.

As an organisation we’ve had to find innovative ways to continue some of our work. For example, during the national lockdown over the summer, some of our officers turned to drone technology to help gather evidence where intelligence suggested illegal waste operations were taking place. Embracing technology in this way allowed such important work to continue while limiting risk to our staff.