The next generation 

March 2, 2017

Newcastle Young Professionals Forum has been around for more than ten years, but it is looking to expand its membership by rethinking what ‘young’ and ‘professional’ mean to its membership. Alison Cowie speaks to chairman Matthew Worton and other board members to find out about how the forum is helping to forge successful connections on Tyneside

Matthew Worton, 24
Portfolio manager, Brewin Dolphin and chairman of the NYPF

Matthew Worton grew up in a small seaside village in North Yorkshire and ventured north to study law at Newcastle University with aspirations of, in his own words, “helping to save the world as a criminal barrister.” But in his second year at university Matthew started to re-evaluate his career choice, and inspired by his much-enjoyed economic and business studies A levels, his mind turned to the dynamic world of stocks and shares.

“Directly managing portfolios really attracted me because I had always been interested in what makes businesses tick,” he says.

After graduating, Matthew began researching finance companies and found that Brewin Dolphin offered the right traineeship for him.

“I loved analysing companies and focusing on what makes one more strategically better positioned than another, and making decision based on that,” he says. “Being at Brewin, you can see the direct impact that things such as Brexit can have.”

Matthew, who spent three years training to become a qualified portfolio manager, has always recognised that getting his face out there – meeting as many people as he can and learning from them – will help him deliver his work.

When he joined Brewin Dolphin, he was told about Newcastle Young Professional Forum (NYPF) and saw an opportunity to begin building a network in the city.

He attended NYPF events while completing his training and when the existing chairman, Oliver York, left the role, he decided to put himself forward.

Matthew has now been chairman of the NYPF for three months and, along with his fellow board members, has ambitious plans to diversify the membership of the organisation (currently numbering around 800) while building its programme of events.

Currently, the forum holds social events (informal networking over after-work drinks), seminars and workshops (the latest reflected on the impact of the Trump presidency) and larger flagship events (usually revolving around sporting events such as a day at the races or trip to watch cricket at Durham CCC).

Matthew and the board are keen to continue with this programme, while adding more events that reflect important professional issues.

Much talk among the board members recently has focused on redefining what constitutes ‘young’ and ‘professional’.

They recognise that traditional age parameters (21-30 years) no longer apply in the modern professional era.

“There are a lot of new businesses out there that are being run by dynamic people in their 30s and 40s and the forum is keen to engage with them,” says Matthew.

In addition, while the NYPF was traditionally confined to the law and finance sectors, the forum now welcomes people from all sectors such as tech, marketing, the arts and design.

By closing the door to these sectors, we were doing ourselves a disservice,” Matthew reveals. “The NYPF has always been about making mutually beneficial connections – now those connections are just more varied.

With no membership fee and the majority of events free for members, the NYPF is funded by around ten (mainly law and finance sector) partners.

Matthew is hoping to add more partners and wants to attract companies in different sectors.

“Some of the companies we’ve been speaking to are outside the [law and finance] mould and it’s encouraging that they want to engage with us; that is reciprocated by the forum, too.”

His advice for anyone thinking about joining the NYPF?

“Get yourself along to one of our events and find out what Newcastle’s young professionals are doing. Our doors are open and we never turn anyone away.”

Matthew concludes: “During my time in Newcastle, I’ve found that its young professional community are eager to engage and learn. Our role at the forum is to facilitate this; it also benefits the wider business community to be able to harness the enthusiasm.”

Ruth Davidson, 28 
Solicitor (construction and engineering), Bond Dickinson 

Ruth’s friends and family used to joke that, as a middle child, she was a born to be a mediator. Indeed, the skills she learnt resolving the arguments and disagreements among her siblings growing up lent themselves perfectly to dispute resolving and the legal profession.

She studied law at Lancaster University before returning to her native North East to complete a legal practice course and a masters in law at Northumbria University.

“I felt more confident starting my career in a place I was familiar with,” she reflects. “When I was applying for places to train, I wanted to focus and get to know fewer places in more depth rather than make blanket applications in cities I had no real commitment to.”

Ruth joined Bond Dickinson’s Newcastle office in 2014 and is now a solicitor in the construction and engineering team.

She has integrated well into Newcastle’s community – socially and professionally – and can sometimes get frustrated by people’s perceptions that they must leave the region to be successful.

“I often think the North East is a bit of an underdog, in terms of a place to live while you’re young and working. In a lot of industries there is no shortage of opportunities here, however, it is disappointing when some in more creative fields feel London is their only option.”

Ruth has been attending NYPF events for a few years and joined the board in spring 2016.

“Something we always try to make clear,” she insists, “is that we don’t define what is ‘young’ and what is ‘professional’. We encourage and welcome new sectors and professions.

The easiest way to see if the NYPF is right for you is to come along and say hello.

Ruth continues: “There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment and it’s going to be interesting for professionals starting and developing their careers through this period of change. But at the forum we feel that where there is change there is opportunity – and I think the North East is well prepared.”

Douglas Jones, 31 
Community engagement manager – North East, Tech North 

American Douglas Jones started his career in Washington DC where he was operations officer at the US Department of State, working directly for Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Prior to this, and while he was studying government and international politics at George Mason University, he spent time in London working as a research assistant in Whitehall. He took a trip to Newcastle and fell in love with the city. He vowed to return one day.

That day came in 2013 after Douglas left the US Department of State and enrolled on a masters course in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship at Newcastle University. After completing his studies, he stayed in Newcastle and joined Tech North. Recently, he has been promoted to community engagement manager: he acts as a liaison between central government and the northern tech industry.

Douglas explains: “Part of my role is to meet various tech founders and get a sense of where they are in business, and figure out how best I can offer value to them. That could be helping a founder secure investment or introducing them to stakeholders.”

Douglas was first introduced to NYPF in late 2014 by the then chairman Oliver York and immediately recognised the opportunity it presented to its members.

“The forum helps young professionals take their first steps into networking and lets them understand the various industries and how they may help them in their careers,” he says.

Now on the board, Douglas is on a mission to open the forum to more of the local tech community.

“Often, tech founders are too busy to realise what networking opportunities are out there. But as a business owner, it’s important to establish strong relationships with people who can provide support – such as legal and financial services. Even if they don’t need them now they will do as their operations grow.”

As part of his Tech North job, Douglas regularly visits other northern cities and tech clusters and finds that Newcastle offers good opportunities to build contacts.

One of the unique selling points of Newcastle is that it is really well networked and I would say to people to seriously consider joining the NYPF because it will definitely open doors for you.

Dominic Holding, 26 
Planning consultant, Lichfields 

Dominic has always had an interest in metropolitan areas and that’s why he chose to study his masters in town and country planning at the University of Manchester.

“I’m a big fan of cities and places, the way they look and how they function. Also, the ability to help shape their future was a big draw for me,” he reflects.

Having lived in Manchester for four years, Dominic was keen to sample life in another city and found that the cost of living versus salary proved the most competitive in Newcastle. He joined Lichfields (formerly Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners) in December 2013.

“Newcastle has proven to be a great place to live and work; being an NUFC fan has helped!

“There is a strong sense of community in the North East, and this definitely carries into the world of business. Institutions like the NYPF help reinforce this, and the events provide an easy way to build up your professional network and raise your personal profile.”

Speculation that the North East will be hit disproportionately hard by Brexit does concern Dominic but he is keeping an open mind and remains committed to staying in his adopted home.

There is a tremendous amount of development occurring in the North East, especially in cities like Newcastle and Durham, and there will always be a need for high quality planning consultancy services to help bring forward this development.

Dominic regularly attends NYPF events and sees them as a great opportunity to expand his professional network while making friends along the way.

He adds: “The North East can sometimes be overlooked and I think that perceptions could be improved in order to attract more investment and talent to the region.

“Professional networks such as the NYPF, however, go a long way towards putting a positive message out there and showcasing the enthusiasm and skills we have in this region.”

Hollie Morgan, 23 
Trainee solicitor, Ward Hadaway 

Hollie joined Ward Hadaway as a trainee solicitor in the family department in 2015, after completing her law degree at Newcastle University.

She was attracted to the diversity of a career in law and using problem solving skills to assist clients.

Each day is different and brings new challenges.

Still relatively new to the profession, Hollie is intent on developing a sizeable network of contacts over the next couple of years and is aiming to become an associate solicitor at Ward Hadaway within the next five to seven years.

She feels that the North East has a keen focus on developing young professionals with its strong university facilities and graduate opportunities at some of the UK’s top law firms.

“London may be perceived by some as the area with the most [legal] opportunities however I have not felt disadvantaged for not having experienced working life in the capital.”

Hollie started attending NYPF events when she became a trainee at Ward Hadaway and formally joined the board in the summer of 2016.

“The NYPF provides an introduction to the professional world by facilitating introductions with like-minded individuals from a range of organisations,” she says. “The jump from university into full-time professional employment can sometimes be challenging, particularly if you do not already have a network of contacts in the region – which most young people don’t.

“As your career starts to develop, it is important to build a network of contacts which you can call upon either to bounce ideas off or to work with other professional organisations to compliment the services that you offer.

“I have met a range of people through the NYPF who I know will provide invaluable personal and professional support in the future.”

Glen Crowther, 24 
Manager, PwC 

Glen chose not to attend university and instead joined PwC after his A levels as part of its old HeadStart programme in September 2011. He qualified as an chartered accountant in 2015.

“I was attracted to a career in accounting as I felt it would be a good fit for my analytical and numerical skills, and the opportunity to join a professional services firm straight out of sixth form would be a great way to build a breadth of experience in the sector,” he says.

Glen, who grew up in the North East, has relished the challenges PwC has provided him with and the range of skills he has developed. He feels that there are plenty of opportunities for growth working at one of the ‘big four’ firms, but also likes the close-knit business community in Newcastle.

Glen joined the NYPF as a trainee associate, and joined the board roughly two years ago.

A big part of my work involves building my network and developing business relationships, and the forum has provided an opportunity to meet like-minded people and develop friendships as well as business contacts in an informal and friendly way.

Newcastle Young Professionals Forum