Viewpoint: Rhiannon Griffiths

March 31, 2020

North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson caught up again with Rhiannon Griffiths, associate solicitor at Muckle LLP, after a first meeting at last year’s Avison Young, Invest Newcastle and Muckle LLP ‘State of the Region’ seminar at Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema

When you told me you graduated at Newcastle University with a law degree and had subsequently moved to the city to settle here, it was very much a ‘eureka’ moment for me – proof at last that graduates can and do stay in Newcastle. What was behind it?

I think probably the biggest decision for me was coming to Newcastle to study at Newcastle University in the first place. It was a long way from where I grew up in Barry, South Wales, but I was also looking for some adventure! Newcastle has a reputation for attracting students who want to party, but I was drawn to the campus feel of the university and to the excellent reputation of its departments. The Law School was very highly ranked and has produced many great lawyers. Both universities in Newcastle are special – they are a stone’s throw away from the city centre and yet they still have a central hub, which creates the important campus.

You were born in South Wales, had moved to York to study for a solicitor’s post graduate course and then had taken a trainee place in Leeds, why did you return to Newcastle?

Newcastle University was a great place to study, to meet new people and to grow. But there are many more interesting and engaging qualities – nearness to a beautiful coastline, a world-
class concert venue and art gallery, and a proud industrial heritage, which brings with it a great and iconic history. There are areas such as Jesmond, Ouseburn and Heaton, where grass root and independent organisations and businesses thrive and learn together. It is easy to be part of the community, not just someone based here. There is also great quality work here. While I trained in Leeds, I started my qualified career in Newcastle, and I am proud to have been involved in exciting projects with national reach – the land acquisition project for the Olympics and the Hays Travel acquisition of Thomas Cook’s real estate portfolio, the development of the new aircraft hangar and offices for Great North Air Ambulance Service and the re-opening of Spanish City. For me, it offers a win-win situation.

Retaining graduates in Newcastle is a major thrust for agencies involved in the economic development of the North East. Often described as improving the skills gap, when it goes wrong it falls into the brain drain category. What are your thoughts on this?

Improving the skills gap should be the primary focus of those responsible for economic development. Without having the skills, people cannot contribute effectively to the economy. Indent is key, whether it be job apprenticeship or technical academic study. I’m very proud
that Muckle led a consortium of law firms to establish the North East Solicitor Apprenticeship programme in 2016, creating a university fees-free route into the profession. The firm has recruited apprentice solicitors every year since it began. Importantly, it means that any North East school-leavers can train and qualify as a solicitor – earning as they are learning.

In terms of brain drain, the North East shouldn’t stop people from going elsewhere to learn in global centres like London. What the North East needs to do is attract people back so that they can bring with them those learned skills to help grow businesses and cultural initiatives.

You did say you sympathised with students who graduated and stayed thereafter in London. Why?

London benefits from the biggest public investments in transport and culture in our country, but time and accommodation costs are very expensive. In Newcastle, I am able to afford a large Victorian terrace home within walking distance of the city centre and my work, on the way to which I can drop my children off at school. I would not be so lucky if I lived in the South East. I think people are seeing the advantage of living and working outside of the UK’s capital hub. With the increase of remote working and electronic networks, we see in our business how the importance of office location is reducing. Indeed, being out of region allows us to offer major national organisations a more workable price for their legal services than our
competitors in London.

Working for Muckle LLP, you are within a thriving business quarter with outstanding office space with in particular, larger floor plates. So, two questions in one – what is Gallowgate like to work in and what are your feelings about the future when you see all around you substantial work underway at, for example, Newcastle Helix?

Gallowgate is a great place to work. Key public transport links into the city centre are close by and we are within walking distance of green spaces, a world-class university and a world- class hospital. You can see throughout the day that people are taking advantage of the introduction of agile working by firms like Muckle, which allows people to meet and work in a more modern and collaborative way. It’s great to know that with all this growth in the local area that Muckle is committed to remaining independent and staying here. The firm has recently invested in technology that makes agile working a very real option, which is not something many law firms have truly adopted. It makes us much more flexible to meet both our personal and our clients’ needs better.

Stepping aside from law for a moment, if you were given responsibility for promoting Newcastle and the wider North East region as the location to which businesses should relocate to, what would be your key messages?

Costs, creativity and sustainability – land is cheaper here, for businesses and their people; we have great universities that can support innovative and creative businesses; and we have a small footprint, which makes the North East easy to do business with. You can move around the city on bike without breaking a sweat, you can move around the region on public transport and with excellent telecommunications links you can work globally without creating an adverse impact on the environment. It really is a fantastic place to live and work.

Muckle LLP