Be Inspired Series
Head of Economic Development
Craigavon Borough Council
What does your role involve?
My role primarily involves taking responsibility for developing and delivering Craigavon Borough Council's work in relation to economic development, town centre management, tourism, public realm, public art, festivals/ events and rural development.
We work with local companies, business owner/managers, Chambers of Commerce and Trade, central and local government and a host of other stakeholders to maximise opportunities for economic prosperity and wealth across the borough - for example our bi-annual Craigavon Business Awards, a central part of our development strategy for the region, which took place this month.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
My first role was with a training organisation with young people where I had to take charge, speak in public and deliver training. I then moved to Banbridge District Council as an Economic Development Officer. I really enjoyed this role working with the local business and civic community so when a similar position came up in Craigavon Borough Council I applied for it. I was successful and was gradually given more responsibility in Craigavon Borough Council before being promoted to Head of Economic Development.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
When I was a student and seeking work at the start of my career, local government was not on my radar. I suppose like lots of young people I didn’t realise what opportunities there were and what a role with a local council would entail. Now that I am here I understand how much work goes on behind the scenes to assist and support the local community. I am extremely happy in my role and feel very privileged to work for a progressive organisation promoting world class companies and all that goes with this opportunity.
What training or experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
My experience with Banbridge District Council as an economic development officer gave me the knowledge and insight to understand what a career in local government would entail. In my current role, I have learned a lot from those working with me both in the council and in our stakeholder organisations. I have had the privilege of working with and for some very inspirational people and have gained valuable skills in relation to management, networking and relationship building.
When I joined Craigavon Borough Council I was a graduate with a BA (Hons) Business Studies from the University of Ulster. After a few years in the job I felt I wanted to continue my professional development. I undertook an MSc in Local Economic Development with the University of Glasgow with the support of Craigavon Borough Council. This experience has really helped to development my skills within the department.
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
As a local authority Craigavon Borough Council has a leadership role in the community. Elected members work on behalf of the community they serve. It is our job as council officers to support the elected members and to progress initiatives for the wider benefit of the business and civic community in the Borough.
How does your role fit in as part of this?
My department oversees initiatives such as the Business Awards but as a council officer I generally implement the decisions of Council through a committee system. I bring forward new ideas, funding opportunities, plans for potential funding revenues available to the area for business growth. I also work with central government to access opportunities for Craigavon. I manage strategic projects such as the £8m Public Realm schemes in Lurgan and Portadown, the £16m Rural Development Programme for Craigavon, Armagh and Newry & Mourne rural council areas.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
This job requires me to be able to see the bigger picture in terms of strategy and to be able to see how a certain course of action could benefit or negatively impact on Craigavon. As a person you need to be willing to compromise, to work well with others, to multitask effectively and to be very proactive. In local Government where there are so many stakeholders it is important to be able to negotiate, think laterally and find solutions which are to the benefit of the rate payers in the borough.
What are the biggest rewards of the job?
I get the greatest sense of achievement when projects come together and Craigavon is acknowledged as an area of great economic significance. After the Craigavon Business Awards when we were celebrating the great achievements of businesses in the Borough I really felt as if we were making a significant difference in our local community at a time of real economic challenge for many business people.
What are the biggest challenges in your role?
The biggest challenge we face is finding time to build and maintain relationships with the many stakeholders we engage with through the development function. It can also be difficult when dealing with many individuals and organisations to move forward on issues but it is all part of the role to be able to take lots of different viewpoints into consideration and create a situation agreeable to all.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
A very wise lady once told me to never give up on trying to find a way round a problem as there always is another way.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
Build a great team around you as I have done, always be available to talk through issues they might have, always be supportive and positive, give praise and acknowledge when a job has been well done. Without a hardworking team that works together, you can do nothing.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I'm a keen runner and one of my biggest personal achievements was running the 2011 Belfast Marathon. I enjoy travelling and holidaying in far flung destinations when possible, soaking up the atmosphere. I enjoy spending summers in and around Dundrum and Newcastle, visiting the wonderful coffee shops, seal watching from Murlough beach and running on the sand dunes on a warm summer’s evening as the sun is setting.