Gillian Danby is the new chair of the North East England Chamber of Commerce’s Hartlepool committee. She sat down with Mark Lane to answer questions about the challenges and opportunities facing the town
Gillian Danby comes to her new role as chair the North East England Chamber of Commerce’s Hartlepool committee with a clear vision of what can be achieved and how to set about it. She also gives off a palpable enthusiasm for working with the town’s businesses to realise their potential.
She says: “It’s about giving Hartlepool businesses an opportunity to network, support each other and learn from each other. I want Hartlepool businesses to feel inspired, supported and connected to the wider North East England community.
“We also need to ensure that the town’s business views are fed into the chamber’s policy campaigns. In short, we need collectively to promote Hartlepool and ensure that outsiders know who and what were are about.”
Her career began with Hartlepool Borough Council before moving to North Yorkshire County Council as a principle accountant, then returned to university to do an MBA. Her career then broadened into all support services across England and then in Canada, where she was vice president and chief finance officer for the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta.
Gillian later achieved a Doctorate at Teesside University and is publishing a book in early 2020 of the research learning from a practical perspective on gender, leadership and creativity. In 2015, she set up her own business based in Hartlepool, Artistry in Leadership, a professional development consultancy which relates to this expertise. Her broad knowledge sees her regularly asked to speak at conferences both nationally and internationally.
“I was astounded by the number of entrepreneurs in Hartlepool, particularly women,’’ she says. “I recognised that the chamber held area meetings in all major towns in the North East except Hartlepool. I asked the chamber why and was
told we can’t get a chair. I sort of walked into that one, but I am very proud and happy to support my hometown and its entrepreneurs.’’
She sees Hartlepool’s key challenges as being transportation and the environment, but points to plans in place. For transportation, there’s the re-opening of Tees Valley Airport and the Tees Valley Mayor has confirmed that funds are available to upgrade Darlington Railway station and to modernise Hartlepool Railway station, including the opening of a second track. This would significantly increase the frequency of trains to the town.
On the environment, many derelict buildings in Hartlepool have been demolished with more planned and the town is benefiting from the commitment of its residents through Hartlepool Big Tidy Up, with support from Hartlepool Borough Council.
Asked about the strengths of Hartlepool, she replies: “It has so much to offer, with its fantastic marina, a great coastline, historic environment, proud heritage, and a beautiful rural environment on our doorstep. It’s an incredibly friendly place and its people are very proud of their town and its heritage. Hartlepool had over 3.5 million visitors in 2019 which is expected to rise further. The town has some of the best schools in the country with Ofsted rating 87 per cent of Hartlepool Schools as good or outstanding. The quality of life in the town is very high.’’
Gillian is convinced that the town can adapt and diversify, as demonstrated by the re-building of the Hartlepool College of Further Education and major investment in Cleveland College of Art and Design. “The Hartlepool Plan sets out the vision for the next 15 years for future growth and prosperity with a wide range and choice of homes and jobs within a high quality environment,’’ she says.
She explains that there are three “masts” of Hartlepool’s new economy:
Mast 1, Creative Hartlepool: A plan to build on the town’s reputation as a creative town which supports creative people, ideas and enterprise, including an innovation and skills quarter.
Mast 2, ‘Productive Hartlepool’: This seeks to consolidate and strengthen the core foundations of the new economy and add value to the Tees Valley priorities.
Mast 3, ‘Connected Hartlepool’:
This aims to widen the borough’s economic footprint with an outward- facing approach to collaboration. This
is demonstrated through Hartlepool Waterfront, Civic Quarter and Town Centre, Hartlepool tourism plan, and local rail enhancements.
Gillian says that chamber continues to offer support to business of all sizes in Hartlepool. First, with business services covering advice relating to HR, legal, health and safety and tax. Second, in growing networks through introductions. Finally, by increasing members’ skills, knowledge and information through events such as Hear from the Experts, breakfast briefings and seminars and workshops on HR-related subjects.
Artistry in Leadership