Mark Lane talks to Jennifer Rycroft, large business relations and partnerships manager of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, to find out more about her role in nurturing the organisation’s relationships with key members
Jennifer Rycroft, large business relations and partnerships manager with the Chamber, has seen at first hand the challenges faced by our region in terms of funding compared to London and the South. Following her graduation, she spent a period working in an arts administration internship with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. “It was hard work for little money, but five months later, I accepted a job and moved to the North East to be part of the development team at Sage Gateshead, where I stayed for six years.”
Her time with Sage Gateshead gave Jennifer a great insight into working closely with large businesses, where her experience included being part of a team that successfully reached a target set by Arts Council England in 2012 to raise £4m over three years, as part of a tenth birthday appeal to unlock £2m match funding.
She joined the North East England Chamber in 2016, and her prior experiences have provided an invaluable grounding for her current role. “Working for a charity has its own challenges, particularly when it comes to funding,” she says. “Moving from working for the arts in London to the North East highlighted the imbalance of government support nationally. Combined with the issue of cuts to local funding and the need therefore to rely more heavily on support from the private sector post-recession, made plugging an ever-increasing gap, near impossible. It did, however, make me even more determined to succeed.”
Asked why she chose to join the Chamber, she says: “It was definitely the chance to continue working with some of the businesses I had already established relationships with in my previous role, but also the purpose of the Chamber and the work it did to make the North East an even better place to do business.”
In her Chamber role, Jennifer heads up the large business team working with over 300 of the biggest private and public sector organisations across the region through the President’s Club and Partner Member Programme as well providing opportunities for further engagement, including sponsorship.
“My day-to-day work is largely focused on managing long-term relationships with a small group of some of the region’s most influential businesses who, through representing their sector, work closely with us on shared aims and objectives on behalf of the wider member network,” Jennifer says.
“We work with just 30 members at one time through the Partner programme, representing one per cent of our total membership; there’s a lot of great work that goes on behind the scenes with these members.”
Jennifer spends her time between the Chamber’s offices (Durham and Newcastle mainly, but also Middlesbrough), being on the road, in meetings with members or colleagues and working from home.
Discussing how she balances this time, she says: “Having a quite a wide remit, generally means I have to block time out to focus and dedicate time to different aspects of my role. I try and dedicate at least one and a half days a week where I can focus on emails, following up with members, pulling activity plans and proposals together. I’ll also dedicate time to my team, budgets and overall development of the proposition. Other days are spent progressing campaigns, projects and events that partner members are at the forefront of, in amongst regular Partner and sponsor meetings.”
Jennifer says her work is not about “quick wins or high volume – it’s considered and longer term”. She adds: “I really enjoy getting to know a business and pulling together something bespoke that works for us and them – in most cases involving the expertise of the wider Chamber team. I think it’s therefore even more satisfying when something you’ve been working on for a while – sometimes a year or more! – comes to fruition.”
Asked about the most rewarding aspect of her job, Jennifer replies: “The people I work with are a huge part of what I love about working for the Chamber, and I think we have a great working culture. I also love the travel. It’s often time consuming and means I have to be quite savvy when organising my diary, but this job has enabled me to see so much of and learn so much about the region.”