After university I was working for an IT company in Newcastle where I was offered a six-month secondment in London. It turned out to be exactly the right thing to do because I soon realised I wanted to work for a charity and got a job working for one of the directors at the Prince’s Trust.
I actually wanted to be a journalist. I did work experience at the Chronicle and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But at university I started volunteering for local charities, which ultimately took me in a different direction.
As a Newcastle United fan, I had always said that my dream job would be to set up a charity at the club. Fate intervened because I missed the job advert but a colleague very kindly cut it out and left it on my desk with only a few hours to meet the deadline. It was definitely one of those moments where you can’t believe the opportunity in front of you, but you know you just have to grab it.
Newcastle United Foundation exists to take the football club out into the community. Our mission is to use the local passion for football to encourage learning and promote healthy lifestyles that will make a real difference to the lives of disadvantaged children, young people and families in our region.
Regular communication is really important and my door is open all the time so staff can come in to speak to me about anything. Our mission and aims are clear; we set annual targets within each of the areas we work in and we celebrate people hitting milestones along the way, no matter how small. The main motivation is seeing just how football and Newcastle United can change lives.
It sounds like a cliché but the past eight years have been my career highlight because I love my job. The foundation is now working with almost 50,000 children, young people and families a year and demand for what we do is growing. Plus walking past the Sir Bobby Robson statue outside St James’ Park on the way to my office every day still makes me pinch myself.
Like any charity, fundraising is ongoing. We work incredibly hard to make sure that the income is secure year on year and we couldn’t do what we do without our partners, especially Newcastle United and the Premier League. But one of our biggest challenges is keeping up with demand. We are contacted daily by individuals, schools and communities who want our support and, while we want to say ‘yes’ to everyone, sometimes it is just not possible.
Other than my two children, I’d say that the staff at the foundation are my biggest inspiration. They have the same level of energy and passion at the end of every day as they do at the start – no easy task in front of a packed school assembly at 8.30am or coaching a team of lively teenagers at 8pm on a Friday night.
Our immediate goal is to carry on delivering our annual programme of sporting, education and employability projects in the local community. In the long term, the vision is our own facility near the stadium, a community hub where children, young people and adults can play football, learn and achieve their goals.
With a three year old and an 11 month old life is hectic but I am lucky that my children go to a brilliant nursery and have an amazing grandma. We live by the coast so at the weekend we love to go down to the beach – Riley’s Fish Shack at King Edward’s Bay is our new favourite spot.