Sunday sit-down with… Rosie Thomas
At 35, Rosie became one of the youngest Directors of a National Park in the UK. We caught up with her to find out how she got there
It seems that the North East is filled with inspirational women who, despite breaking down barriers, blazing new trails and campaigning for positive change in their professions, seem to just quietly go about their business.
Rosie Thomas is such a woman. At the age of 35, she became (and remains) one of the youngest directors of a National Park in the UK, overseeing all of Northumberland National Park’s investment strategies and community and visitor engagement as the Director of Business Development. But for Rosie, it’s no biggie. In fact, she feels like she was born for the role.
Photo credit: Chris Owens
Having grown up in the idylls of the Lake District, Rosie first ventured east to the bright lights of Newcastle to study at university. But the North East quickly captured her heart and she decided to stick around – so much so that now, whichever way she’s driving along the A69, she feels like she’s going home.
While Rosie was studying on Tyneside, she watched the construction of the monumental Sage Gateshead unfold. She vowed to herself that she’d work there one day; 10 years later, she was managing the appeal to raise £6 million for the landmark’s 10th birthday.
That’s just what tends to happen with talented, hard-working and committed individuals, isn’t it? The see something and they do it. And having devoted her career to helping provide better opportunities to those most in need – whether through organising community projects in Kendal or fundraising in Tyne and Wear – Rosie Thomas is undoubtedly a ‘doer’ of things that help make the world just that bit more of a better place.
That’s why she’s such a great fit for Northumberland National Park – a majestic rural space, but one that isn’t content to remain just a rural space. It’s a space that seeks out partnerships with far more urban businesses, such as The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre and Kielder Observatory, to drive research and tourism to the area; that commissions artists and creatives to inspire wider engagement, such as its recent Black Nature in Residence Project, which aims to reconnect Black, Asian and Ethnic communities with the Park; or that prides itself on its commitment to sustainability in every sense of the word, protecting and conserving the environment so that future generations can reap the rewards for many more years to come.
We caught up with Rosie to find out about her path to her dream job, discover why she feels she was perfectly positioned to become one of the youngest National Park directors in the country, and to uncover some of her top-secret coffee-flask spots.
You’re one of the country’s youngest directors of a National Park. Can you tell us about your route to the top?
It’s funny to think of it in terms of age, as National Parks are something that have been with me all my life. I was born in Grasmere, in the heart of The Lake District National Park, and the values of nature, beauty and access to the outdoors is in my bones. I’ve always just wanted to share that with others.
I think, in that way, this job was a long time in the making. For me, the vision for the creation of National Parks over 70 years ago – as assets for the nation to benefit from – is incredibly important, and the weight of that drives me to always do more and better.
What made you settle in the North East?
I fell in love with the North East after attending Newcastle University, and I want to give back to the region that gave me a home from home. Doing that in the beautiful setting of Northumberland National Park is a dream come true.
The team at the park are fantastic and everyone works so hard because they totally believe in the importance of what they provide regionally, nationally and internationally – as National Parks are part of a larger, international family.
What does a typical day look like for you?
That’s really hard to answer, as the work is always so varied! One day I can be working with funders or partners in the park, identifying projects and investments, and the next day I could be working with the team to launch a wonderful arts exhibition at The Sill. For me, it’s that variety that keeps it interesting and rewarding.
What do you love most about your job?
I can’t just pick one thing! So if you’ll let me have three, I would say: the team, the cause and the place.
The team are wonderful and committed and, as a Director, you couldn’t ask for more than that. The cause, because the care of this wonderful place for people to benefit from now and forever is incredibly rewarding. And the place, because Northumberland National Park is just so special. We have the cleanest rivers, the darkest skies, much of the country’s most important heritage and, of course, the wonderful Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre on Hadrian’s Wall.
What advice would you give other women in the region who may want to become a director in the future?
Find something you really care about, because that will drive you to be your best, give yourself a clear set of values and help you achieve your goals. Also, never forget that you are part of a bigger team and value that.
What’s your favourite spot within Northumberland National Park?
Such a tough question! Hadrian’s Wall and The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre are my ‘work home’. Having a coffee in the café and looking out along Hadrian’s Wall is really special. But then I also love The Cheviot Hills and surrounding valleys.