Meeting just a handful of the young people nominated for our guide to the North East’s future leaders has Alastair Gilmour glowing with pride and enthusiasm.
WHAT a privilege. Being able to sit down with some of the brightest brains in the North East has been amazing, even for someone who has experienced Richard Branson squirming in a close encounter and – admittedly – been overwhelmed by Tony Blair’s aura of power and control in the days after 9/11.
All of our Rising Stars and Future Leaders were suggested by those nominated in The Journal’s 500 of the Most Influential People in the North East, published in June. Those most likely to grasp the region’s reins over the next few years include designers, lawyers, accountants, dancers, regenerators and sportsmen and women. Some of them are in their first jobs, others have moved around carving out careers, and yet more have plumped for self-employment. But all have compelling stories to tell and have a bright future which every one of us in the North East – and the whole country – will benefit from.
Looking at the list, who could not be bowled along by the enthusiasm and charm of Urban Kaos? Kelly Heaviside and Amy Colclough (the K and A in Kaos) are contributing massively to the community, right across the region and more locally in Stockton-on-Tees.
Urban Kaos revolves around street dance and impromptu performance set to loud music. The business was founded on taking energetic dance routines out into the street and bringing the street into theatres and studios.
Amy and Kelly are regularly invited to use Urban Kaos techniques for schools careers advice, sex education, drug awareness and anger management – all completed successfully through dance. They have been involved with adult drugs rehabilitation courses where dancing sessions were part of the programme; they enjoy working with special needs children and teenagers from housing estates who would rather do anything whatsoever than dance, and they have helped young offenders identify a straight path on their release from detention.
Fortunately, there is no lower age-limit on leadership. Jonathan Grubin was well on his way to setting up a business as a 12-year-old attending Newcastle Royal Grammar School. A website offering free screensaver downloads for mobile phones was his first venture, made all the sweeter when a cheque for £10 arrived for his trouble. Now 17, he operates live.newcastle.co.uk, a listings and reviews website, plus ForFree4U.co.uk which offers free iPods and digital cameras for introductions to advertisers. A-levels may cause a distraction over the coming months but Jonathan seems to be quite far along the entrepreneurial path already.
Fashion designer Kate Fearnley is convinced most people don’t understand how difficult her chosen profession is. They have this idea about drawing dresses all day or simply setting up a label or opening a shop and watching the money flow in.
“Having your own fashion business is so hard,” she says. “There are so many highs and so many lows, but it’s worth it.
“Sitting in an attic for 20 hours a day isn’t glamorous at all. There are lots of deadlines and I don’t like to let shop customers down, which doubles the work. Customers are used to everything being made here, like a bespoke boutique.”
Four years ago, furniture designer Nick James opened The Mushroom Works on St Lawrence Road on Newcastle’s East Quayside as a centre for artists and designers. He had hardly announced his intention when every one of its 12 studios was signed up – and a waiting list of 30 hopefuls stretched along the front of the building.
He then developed The Brick Works nearby on similar lines. Both businesses are operated on a Community Interest system which in simple terms is an organisation set up halfway between a limited company and a charity. It supports practitioners in the creative industries and encourages activities that benefit them all equally. A gallery and showroom displays the works of painters, jewellers, graphic designers and textile creatives.
Teenager Rory Clegg has been tipped to be yet another England rugby union defender to roll off the Newcastle Falcons production line. Still only 18, the former Barnard Castle School student has already made the national Under-20s squad, having become a first-team regular for the Kingston Park club. His mentor there is none other than Jonny Wilkinson – and what better way to learn leadership than from a national icon.
When Richard Evans took up the post of director at Beamish Museum he walked around the County Durham site and observed visiting groups. He quickly understood that he needs to know what Beamish has to offer and what customer reaction is before he can identify how to take the award-winning attraction forward.
“You learn a lot more from watching people visiting than by sitting behind a computer,” he says. “It’s their museum and we want to give them a great time. It’s important that it’s not a cliche with flat caps.”
Rising Stars Future Leaders is a unique way of predicting the future. And with the region’s prosperity being entrusted to our selection, it’s a future to relish.