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Hear From Our Experts & Attendees

Express Your InterestWe are committed to leveraging our expertise in the University and our wider network to support SME organisations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

On this page you can hear from our experts who will be delivering on the SBLP programme through a series of useful blog articles providing insight, opinions and advice on coping with the impacts of COVID-19, and preparing for a promising future. In addition, you can also read testimonials from those who have attended the programme.

“The SBLP really helped me during a time of significant change, when our core business – corporate travel – was pretty much on hold and we were busy diversifying into new markets. The Programme provided the focus I needed to shape our long-term plans and it gave me confidence in our new strategy. Since completing the course we’ve rebranded and launched a new marketing campaign.

“I’ve realised that even when you run your own business, you don’t have to have all the answers. It was so inspiring to share knowledge and experience with other small business leaders and to gain insight and advice from the tutors on the programme. My number one goal is to grow the business and what I’ve learned and gained from this Programme has absolutely given me the right tools to do that.”

Kemoy Small – The Reight Group


“I’ve gained so much practical learning from the Small Business Leadership Programme which I’ve been able to apply directly in our business and it’s made a big difference almost immediately. I’ve implemented a number of changes that have saved us time and resource and given us the tools and systems we need in place to grow the business moving forward.  I’m a finance geek, so the content focussed on operations was always going to be interesting and enjoyable, but wow it’s also been the most useful to me and our business.”

Victoria Lee – Deadgood


We went into business just over five years ago with a great brand and product and found early success without really understanding much about businesses and how they are run. Like everyone during the pandemic, we have met with challenges. The SBLP topics and speakers were extremely diverse, and whilst a lot of the shared practice and the theory behind it showed us things we were already doing intuitively (which gave us confidence in our leadership), there was so much content that was completely new to us.

“We gained invaluable tips and new skills that we have implemented into moving our business forward. These are things I wish I had known from the start of my journey! But the changes we are now making are inspiring the whole company and re-igniting our team with energy ready for the challenges we will face in the short and long term.

“What's more, it was great having our hands held by our tutor who followed us through every guest speaker, checked in with us to see how we were getting on, and then discussed with a group of peers what we had gained. It was great working with this peer group too. Everyone came from a different industry, and it was fascinating to see the crossovers in leadership, and what we could gain from each other. I would highly recommend this course to anyone involved in leading an organisation, and I can honestly say it is the most valuable thing I have done since starting a business. I feel my eyes have been opened to a whole new world!”

Nick Smith – Steam Machine Brewery


“The SBLP came at the right time for us. Our organisation is a busy care provider – a social enterprise supporting adults with complex needs, learning disabilities and autism. Everyone we support lives in their own home and many have what’s labelled as challenging behaviour. Covid created real difficulties for us. It was a real challenge to ensure the safety of people, whilst also effectively managing and communicating with staff operating across a wide area.

“It is ten years since we started our organisation and the SBLP was great in giving me a helpful refresher and an opportunity to reflect on some key areas in the business. One tangible outcome was some work to rediscover our ethical motivation and feed this into our staff terms and conditions – not only making us a better employer but also helping to improve our recruitment and retention.

“The sessions were very good and the cohort of other business leaders gave us some interesting conversations. All in all, well worth the effort!’

Dave Barras – Psfor you

For many small businesses, 2020 was a year to simply survive. As the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines gathers pace and focus moves to the potential of a more optimistic year ahead, how can the Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) help SMEs to refocus and rebuild?

Justin Turner, Entrepreneur and Director of digital accountancy business Orange Umbrella, is part of the Small Business Leadership Programme delivery team for Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University. Here he talks about the challenges that SMEs face and the benefits that this fully-funded Programme can offer:

“To best understand how the SBLP can help, I think it’s always good to start with real life events. So, I’ll begin with a story….

“I have a client who decided he needed to free up his time so he could work ‘on his business’, rather than just working in it. We’ve all heard the expression before, but what does it mean in practice? Well, for my client, he decided to employ someone to look after his customers, which gave him free time each week to focus on developing and attracting new business.

“He implemented a new marketing campaign which was a roaring success – and his client base did indeed grow. But he faced new challenges as a result. He realised he didn’t have the right skills to manage staff nor did he have the processes in place to manage more clients. His accounts became disorganised, he ran out of capacity and his time became focused on trouble shooting and fighting fires instead. 

“For me, the moral of the story is that as business owners and managers we always have more to learn. To drive a business forward we need to constantly build on our skills and knowledge. 

“This is where the Small Business Leadership Programme can really help. It takes you through the key stages of business management and development and fills in the gaps my client was missing.

“One of the good things about this programme is that people like me – who are running and leading businesses – share their knowledge and experiences openly. We want to help you succeed and I’ll always be frank about the mistakes I’ve made along the way. Being able to talk from a point of view of success, but also that of ‘real world’ experience, is worth its weight in gold. 

“The pandemic has undoubtedly brought business owners a whole raft of new challenges and problems and many are feeling lonely and isolated as a result. It’s often hard as a business owner to open up about your worries and concerns and business coaches are an expensive resource that many, especially during a financial downturn, just can’t afford.

“The SBLP offers invaluable, free support. Importantly, it brings together the knowledge from universities and the experience from business owners who are specialists in their field.

“I can’t speak highly enough about what the Programme can do for a business, whether struggling or successful – it is full of tools to help. More than 150 businesses from the North East and Cumbria have signed up to date but there are a still a small number of spaces remaining for January cohorts.

“If you run or lead an SME and would benefit from new knowledge, skills, support and networks to help you recover, grow and succeed this year, I’d encourage you to sign up quickly and join us.”

To find out more about the Programme, visit our website here - or to secure a free place on a January cohort, visit the Small Business Charter website today:

Justin Turner is an entrepreneur based in Newcastle. He runs a small accountancy practice with six members of staff and focuses on the SME sector. His practice uses the latest technology to provide an efficient approach to managing client record keeping. Justin is also the Financial Director for a local estate agent and has his own property portfolio. Justin has been working with Northumbria University as an Associate Lecturer since 2011 teaching subjects such as Graduate Enterprise, Entrepreneurship & Creativity, E-business, and Innovation.

By Justin Turner

The Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) has been created specifically to help SME leaders build resilience, tackle the challenges they’re facing during Covid-19 and drive future growth.

It’s delivered wholly online by a range of small business experts; it’s purposefully structured in short webinar sessions (eight over ten weeks) designed to fit comfortably alongside day-to-day business delivery; and, as a government-backed programme, is free of charge to anyone that takes part.

But given the current, unprecedented pressures on many small businesses and a need to focus on survival first and foremost, why consider signing up?

We talked to Dr Matthew Sutherland, from Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University – who is co-leading delivery of the Small Business Leadership Programme here in the North East and Cumbria – about what it offers.

What does the programme cover?

The programme covers a wide range of practical topics, all of which are key to managing a successful and sustainable business no matter what your sector – and the syllabus is delivered in the context of Covid-19. We recognise the unique difficulties that many SMEs are grappling with so we’re looking at how new and improved knowledge and skills can help them to tackle the challenges they face today.

Topics include: innovations and markets; leadership and employee engagement; vision, purpose and brand; demand creation and customer relationships; operational efficiency; finance and financial management; action planning and implementation.

The programme is underpinned by the three core themes of productivity, sustainability and resilience – with the latter arguably the most pertinent at the moment. A company is only ever as resilient as its people; if managers and staff are anxious and burned out, every single business KPI will be negatively affected. We explore both personal and business resilience and look at tactics and strategies that will enable organisations to navigate change effectively and emerge stronger.

Who is delivering the programme?

In total, there’s a team of 20 – including entrepreneurs, academics and business leaders who have both specialist expertise, as well as first-hand SME business experience. To give you a better flavour of the breadth, I’ll highlight a few members of the team:

John Wales: John is Director for Knowledge Exchange at Newcastle Business School. He has more than fifteen years’ experience working in the City of London in FTSE-listed companies and, from inception, as part a highly successful start-up. His research interests are sustainability, productivity and regulation and his teaching focus is experiential learning and consultancy. Privately he is also an angel investor.

Matt Lievesley: Matt trained and worked as an industrial designer in the manufacturing sector before joining the Design School at Northumbria University as an Associate Professor. He currently teaches Design, Design Management and Innovation, but has also maintained industry-facing roles throughout. He works with businesses in the region, often helping them to establish an in-house design or innovation function – whether that’s creating new services or new products. He is named inventor on many patents and design registrations as a result.

Gill Danby: Gill has worked as a coach for over 20 years supporting managers and executives to become great leaders. She has also worked as a senior executive in both the UK and Canada at the corporate and board level. Gill is one of very few coaches to hold both a professional Doctorate and coaching qualification and her specialist areas include: supporting cultural change; strategies for managing stress, change, conflict or crisis; developing high performing teams; and preparing for transformation.

Jane Steed: Jane is an executive coach and workshop facilitator with a background in industry as a contracts manager. She draws on skills from elite sports coaching and from experience of competing at an international level: Jane represented Great Britain as cox to the British Ladies Rowing Team and now uses her motivational and business experience in coaching others.

What difference will it make to me and my business?

Leading a small business can be a lonely place. In the current context, there’s a whole new set of challenges and obstacles to overcome as well as managing staff who are dealing with added pressures and increased levels of anxiety.

This programme provides access to tailored training and support as you navigate the months ahead. You’ll develop your strategic leadership skills and have the opportunity to apply practical learning, on and in your business. You’ll also build valuable new networks and be able to share challenges, experiences and learning with this peer group.

Our aim is to help small businesses do so much more than simply survive; we’re focussed on the skills that build long term growth, increase productivity and underpin successful business planning and delivery for the years ahead.

How do I find out more?

The first cohorts are underway, but new groups will join the programme over the coming months. I’d encourage anyone in a senior leadership position in an SME (5 – 249 employees) to get in touch with us direct or sign up online via the Small Business Charter website (simply select the North East region and choose a start date). 

By Dr Matthew Sutherland

‘Change is the only constant’ is a saying that has never felt more apt. 

As winter approaches and new Covid-related restrictions come into force on an almost weekly basis, business leaders are continuing to chart their path through an ever-changing operating environment.  

Dr. Gill Danby is a change leadership specialist and part of the expert delivery team for the new, fully-funded Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) designed to help SMEs build resilience and tackle the challenges faced during and after Covid-19.

Here Gill reflects on her experience of leading through change this year and shares some of her top tips for small business leaders:


As I write this, it’s more than 200 days since I had my last face to face meeting and almost 30 weeks since I was in the office. The past few months have been the most challenging of our lifetimes. Since March we have had to adapt to new circumstances as life as we know it changed at an unprecedented speed. 

We were thrown into new work practices, social distancing, wearing masks, remote working and endless video calls. As a seasoned leader I have often asked myself ‘can I do this’? 

To thrive, I have had to bring diverse teams together in collaboration and I have come to realise that developing new leadership skills has never been more important. 

Like others, I have had to change my way of working quite significantly – combining technology with an inclusive and human approach. I have had to innovate to meet the changing needs of the organisations I work with. More than ever I have been aware of my contribution to societal needs. 

Many of us continue to feel challenged by the current economic and public health crises and as leaders we play an especially important role in responding to and embracing this changed world. 

For those of you at the helm during this difficult period, here’s my top three change leadership tips:

  1. Allow time to develop yourself. Recognising areas for development and working on them is an important part of personal and professional growth. Every leader should make time for self-improvement, especially in a time of change. We always have something new to learn.
  2. Focus on the benefits. Be clear about the potential positive outcomes for yourself and your staff. Doing so will help to build consensus for the change and perhaps even generate excitement and enthusiasm.
  3. Communicate well. Share information that will be pertinent to your staff. They will want to know the basics, why the change is taking place, what is happening, how it will impact them and their jobs. Always communicate personally to the whole group so that everyone hears the same information at the same time and can ask any questions.

To recover from this crisis, we undoubtedly need a community of leaders with the right skills to confidently navigate the coming months and years. And as leaders ourselves we need to reflect on how and where we can learn and grow in order to shape a sustainable future for our businesses.


Dr Gill Danby is a leadership coach with extensive corporate experience as a senior executive, both in the UK and Canada. Her specialist areas include: supporting cultural change, performance and personal impact enhancement, strategies for managing stress, change, conflict, or crisis, building self-confidence and self-esteem, developing high performing teams and preparing for transformation. 

Gill will work with SMEs to identify tangible methods for engaging staff through leadership and is one of 20 different experts, including entrepreneurs, business leaders and academics from Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University, delivering the Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP).

The SBLP is a free, online, 10-week training programme for senior leaders in organisations with 5–249 employees. Covering a range of practical topics, including operational and finance management, innovation, strategic leadership and employee engagement, the SBLP will provide participants with an online learning community and skills that can be directly applied to their organisations.

To find out more or to sign up, visit or contact Sarah Stephenson:

By Dr. Gill Danby

As new Covid-related restrictions impact on organisations across the region, many companies are continuing to respond and adapt in order to simply survive. But to what extent should businesses embrace the opportunity to do things differently? Is now the time for innovation and transformational change?

Business consultant, sustainability expert and author, Gareth Kane is a member of the delivery team for the new, fully-funded Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) designed to help SMEs build resilience, tackle the challenges faced during and after Covid-19 and drive future productivity and growth. Gareth will introduce the themes of resilience, productivity and sustainability within his sessions.

Here he shares his thoughts on the opportunity to re-think and re-focus in more sustainable ways:  

I write this as data shows that we are very much in the grip of a second wave of the Covid-19 virus. Efforts to persuade citizens back to the daily commute were swiftly thrown into reverse and everybody’s now talking about ‘the new normal’ of social distancing, working at the kitchen table and Zoom continuing for the foreseeable future.

In the background, policy wonks from across the political spectrum are talking about ‘build back better’. Why return to business as usual post-virus if we have pledged to hit ‘net zero carbon emissions by 2050’? Why not use the Covid disruption to start on some of the enormous changes required?

You can see some of this thinking emerge as practical changes on the ground with the Government providing funds and powers to Local Authorities to install ‘low traffic neighbourhood’ measures to encourage the sudden upsurge in cycling during the initial lockdown. Other major Government announcements on fossil-fuelled cars and home insulation are mooted. And in the private sector, some of my clients tell me they have no plans to return to centralised offices now they have proven that teleworking works. Some are already working on plans to rent out the space they have freed up.

History shows every major economic change has winners and losers. When the transistor came along, almost every valve manufacturer went bust, replaced by new electronics start-ups. More recently, digital technology has transformed a huge chunk of the economy, with big names like Virgin/Zavvi and Woolworths disappearing from the high street and the whole concept of buying £50-worth of CDs or DVDs on a Friday lunchbreak being usurped by streaming services. By inventing but failing to embrace digital photography, Kodak effectively destroyed its own market; by contrast Instagram created a new one.

Similarly, hitting such ambitious national carbon targets will require large-scale creative destruction. Put bluntly, we won’t achieve a low carbon economy without high-carbon businesses either transforming into low-carbon equivalents or going to the wall. Brand new opportunities are fast emerging – one of my favourite local examples is Gateshead College’s course to prepare the emergency services personnel to deal safely with electric vehicles in the event of a road traffic accident. That’s a market which simply didn’t exist 10-15 years ago, and there will be many, many more.

So, I would urge every business, large and small, to consider what the sustainability agenda means to them and now it might impact on their future success, productivity and growth. At a time of massive upheaval, it is essential to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) is a free, 10-week training programme for senior leaders in organisations with 5–249 employees. A range of small business experts like Gareth – including entrepreneurs, business leaders and academics from Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University – will deliver the online programme in the North East and Cumbria.

Covering a range of practical topics, including operational and finance management, innovation, strategic leadership and employee engagement, the SBLP will provide participants with an online learning community and skills that can be directly applied to their organisations.

To find out more or to sign up, visit or contact Sarah Stephenson:

By Gareth Kane

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