29th March 2018

Founded in 1971, the aim of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust is to protect wildlife, promote nature conservation and provide educational opportunities for schools and local communities.

We recently spoke to Jane Speak, who initially joined the trust as Office Manager before becoming its business manager 15 years ago. We discussed with her how the challenges have changed for Northumberland Wildlife Trust during her time, and its aspirations for the future.

Could you tell us a little about your background, and how your career path led you to Northumberland Wildlife Trust?

I studied French at Newcastle University followed by a secretarial diploma, and from there began my career in the Adult Education Department at the University. After around seven years, I realised I wanted to pursue an interest in conservation, joining the Trust as Office Manager. Initially responsible for the membership database and office administration, I gradually took on more responsibility and became Business Manager around 15 years ago.

The Trust was established in 1971, how has the organisation, and the projects it is involved with, evolved since then?

In the early years there were no staff at all and the organisation was run on a voluntary basis by Tony Tynan, Curator of the Hancock Museum, and his secretary. In the late 1980s a business review was undertaken, and we brought in a Chief Executive and a Marketing Manager who helped to drive forward much bigger projects and secure larger and more varied sources of funding, notably to support red squirrel conservation which we are still doing today.

What are the key changes you have noted in the sector during your time at the Trust, and what do you see as the key challenges facing it in the future?

In common with many other charities, the Trust has grown from being run by volunteers to becoming a professionally managed organisation with fantastic volunteer support. Being much larger with a staff of around 50 means that more time must be spent on ensuring we meet our legal obligations, whilst at the same time spending the bulk of our money on our core purposes. Securing funding is a key challenge going forward – there are more organisations out there competing for the same funding sources – but for us as a conservation body, doing what we can to improve the state of nature and to conserve biodiversity is critical.

What project, or achievement, are you particularly proud of during your time as Head of Business Management?

It’s an organisational achievement rather than one which I’ve led myself, but I am hugely proud of the Wildlife Discovery Centre which we opened at Hauxley in June last year. Making Hauxley a flagship site for the Trust has been an aspiration for as long as I’ve worked here; I remember Hauxley as a muddy hole in the ground with no wildlife at all. Now it is a flourishing wetland site with a wide range of bird species, a wonderful summer flora, several viewing hides and a fantastic visitor centre and café. It’s probably the most environmentally friendly building in the North East, and I suggest you visit to sample the scones and the amazing views!

You have a substantial number of volunteers involved with the Trust, can you expand a little on what they provide?

Volunteers are involved in almost every aspect of the Trust’s work, from the Trustees who govern the organisation, to the people who go out on site in all weathers to work on our nature reserves, to the willing hands helping in our cafés and many more roles besides. Not only that, but the Wildlife Discovery Centre was largely built by volunteer labour which is an incredible achievement. Volunteer effort equates to the work of about 17 full time staff each year.

The Trust provides educational opportunities for schools and local communities. With far more awareness and programmes such as BBC’s Blue Planet drawing huge viewing figures, have you noticed a spike in interest for conserving wildlife and the natural world?

Blue Planet raised awareness of plastic in our seas and the threat to the marine environment not just in the UK but throughout the world which is something we’ve been saying for many years now. This has had a knock-on effect with our events and activities.

Could you expand a little on the support the Trust receives from with UNW?

We are in our second year of UNW acting as our auditors. We have found their input to be efficient and timely, and we have benefitted from additional advice from their VAT specialist.

Finally, could you tell us the best piece of advice you’ve received during your career?

Never ask anyone to do something you’re not prepared to do yourself!

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