Interview | Nicola Irving

Your Eye On The Region

Issue 50

Did you grow up in the North East or did you decide to relocate here in later life?

I was born in Gateshead, went to school in Durham, and I’ve studied, worked and lived in Newcastle where I’ve always felt most at home. I have however spent considerable time overseas in recent years, living in both Paris and Zaragoza and later travelling to all sorts of wonderful places around the globe for work on a very regular basis. There has always been a draw to the North East though, and whilst I have been

tempted to consider life in other cities (namely Bilbao which I absolutely love), I am a home bird at heart.

What do you think it means to be a businessperson in the North East of England?

I think it’s a great privilege to contribute to the economy and culture in the North East and to help to showcase what we can achieve on the national and world stage. It’s fantastic to be part of something so powerful. There are some phenomenal companies and initiatives here that are truly influential. PROTO in Gateshead, for example, is helping to develop digital companies whose technology is completely game changing, and we have the likes of Pearson Engineering which punches above its weight in the development of lifesaving defence equipment that is used extensively all over the world. GT3 Architects’ focus on people, engagement and community-oriented design is challenging how we approach architecture and is increasingly influential in our home regions, around the UK and overseas. I think we have a responsibility

as businesspeople in the North East to champion the region whenever possible, to collaborate and to share our skills and ideas for the benefit of others.

What is your favourite aspect of life in the North East?

I love our resilience, learnt over many decades and passed on from generation to generation. It comes out in our high spirits, sense of frivolity and determination that I believe characterises our culture here. I love our easy access to cities, countryside, lakes, the sea and thriving market towns. We can easily reach modern art and architecture as well as some of the UK’s most historic and significant sites. There’s a richness and homeliness that I find endearing, but I think as a whole our region could be more inclusive.

Where do you like to eat out in the region?

This is such a tough question for me. Food and dining is real passion for my husband and I. We generally arrange our holidays around a restaurant we have heard about somewhere in the world, and so we have quite a well-used yardstick to compare against. The restaurant scene in the North East is so exciting, and I love the focus we place on local ingredients and sustainable farming. Some of my favourites include Route

in the centre of Newcastle for an opportunity to try lots of different small plates and different wines, Cookhouse in the Ouseburn for Anna Hedworth’s focus on what is grown right there on her doorstep and The Forge in Washington which is just lovely. They all place quality and locality at the heart of what they do, and it really shows. I also really like The Patricia in Jesmond and Broad Chare on the Quayside. Riley’s Fish Shack at King Edward’s Bay is also fantastic for fresh fish and a superb view. I’m looking forward to visiting the recently opened Hjem in Northumberland this August. I have an inkling that it might become my new favourite place.

Are the people really friendlier?

I’ve been lucky enough to experience many different cultures, and to work closely alongside clients and partners from Japan to Colombia and from Botswana to Finland. I’m not sure that I can honestly say that we are friendlier than anywhere else, but we’re definitely up there! We’re known for our friendliness and enthusiasm which I welcome, and I hope it’s something that is always representative of the region. We’re certainly passionate about the things that matter to us and we love to show-off about our home region, which usually translates as friendliness and a disposition to share.

What do you think is the best view in the North East?

Every time I go to Newcastle’s Quayside, I try to imagine that I’ve arrived as a tourist for the first time, and every time I consider it to be one of the most impressive places that I’ve ever been. The swoop from the Georgian Grey Street down onto the Quayside is a favourite little journey of mine. I love getting out around Beamish Woods too, and whilst it isn’t a view as such, it’s really very beautiful. I haven’t been yet, but I imagine the ‘Dark Sky Park’ at Kielder is pretty excellent for a view of the stars!

Do you think living and working in the North East offers the same opportunities as elsewhere in the UK?

I think it offers different opportunities. Whilst there is less choice in the North East due to our smaller cities, I think we have a real opportunity to be innovative and entrepreneurial. I attended an excellent lecture by Chair of the North East LEP, Andrew Hodgson where he proposed that we’re firstrate ‘exporters’ to other markets. We’re quite detached from the rest of the UK and so we’re self-starters who develop good ideas and we go out and find markets. I like that we’ve developed a different approach to our economy and industry to keep pace and it is evident in some of the world-beating and purposeful companies that exist in the region. There is however no doubt that there is still more to do, and more that could be done to support the North East.

Have you had any experience of working elsewhere and how did it compare?

I’ve worked quite transiently all over the world which has been eye-opening. There are, of course, huge differences in how we approach matters culturally and in the technology that we have available to us but at the heart of everything is a need for excellent communication. I have never worked anywhere where that wasn’t the priority. I worked in a marketing agency in Paris for six months which was instrumental in shaping the career that I enjoy now. Whilst the work was as you might expect of a similar agency in the UK, and in the North East, the pace of life was very different, and much more frenetic. I really loved my time living and working in a capital city, but I enjoy the peace and pace of life in the North East much more.

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