New boy is ready to give with a purpose
It's Rob Williamson's first day as chief executive of the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. Alastair Gilmour finds out more.
DAY one of a new job. There’s apprehension, excitement, eagerness and tension – all of that and more.
It’s stressful enough being a beginner slipping in the side door, but starting day one as the top man whose every decision will be analysed brings its own pressures.
Rob Williamson starts his new job today (monday) as chief executive of the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.
It’s a hugely influential and authoritative role, but one that the charismatic 38-year-old will undoubtedly take in his stride – because he’s served a long apprenticeship.
His commitment to social justice and passionate campaigning in the voluntary sector have developed from early close contact with the homeless and by working through caseloads of people on welfare benefits.
He has seen what life has thrown at some of society’s unfortunates but he has had the ability and the desire to do something to help them.
"I got interested in student welfare at university when there were big changes going on," he says.
"Student finances changed, loans were introduced and access to housing benefit was removed.
"There was a higher awareness towards money – who had what and what things cost – which brought me closer to world issues such as Amnesty International. Things like that led me to work in housing and homelessness."
Rob has spent the majority of his career in the North East after graduating from York University in 1992.
He worked for Newcastle City Council, first in voluntary services then as a policy and strategy officer on the social policy and corporate initiatives team.
He joined Northern Rock Foundation in 2003, becoming director of policy and communications.
He takes over at the Community Foundation from the long-serving George Hepburn – its driving force since it began in 1988.
It is the largest and most successful of the 60-plus Community Foundations in the country and manages charitable funds for both local families and companies which have large operations in the region, such as Procter & Gamble and Ringtons.
It awarded £7.8m last year to 1,700 organisations.
Some would call that philanthropy but Rob Williamson seems uncomfortable with the definition. "Philanthropy is a word that went out of fashion," he says after tossing it around for a moment. "People think of the Victorians.
"It’s giving with a purpose. The Community Foundation is about being part of the community.
"In the charity sector, most members of the public are involved in giving either through payroll or by direct debit, or buying through a charity shop. There’s a great tradition of that in this part of the country – it keeps society moving.
"Why? It’s got to be something to do with the culture of the North East, where people are used to helping each other out and our businesses benefiting from a decent quality of life.
"The Community Foundation is the glue that holds everything together."