With Britain starting negotiations to leave the EU at the end of last month, Jill Theobald caught up with Lyndsay Pitchley to talk personal and professional growth – and a new direction for Sheffield City Region
Talking with Office Friendly’s business development manager Lyndsay Pitchley certain words crop up time and again over our chat and coffee.
Resilient. Growth. Positivity. Secure. Caring. Stability.
What’s interesting to note is that these words pepper our conversation regardless of whether we are talking personal growth, her career – and the numerous hats she continues to wear today – or Sheffield City Region and its direction and future post-Brexit.
Rotherham born and bred, Lyndsay was a poorly child but one with clear ambition.
“I was a very sick child. I was severely epileptic and suffered up to ten fits a day. I had a lot of hospital education but not much formal or secondary education. It meant I was self-taught – I had a good business head, I knew from a young age I would make it myself.
“Aged 11, I met (then-Mayor) Jack Skelton and was so excited. I got his autograph, which I kept for years and years. He told me ‘Anyone can become Mayor’ and that really stuck with me.”
After that early introduction to public office, Lyndsay became involved after her children were born.
“I gave up work for 10 years but worked for my husband and we set up a small construction company , I started doing VAT returns, bid writing, the legal and back office work ,so I kept my hand in the business world and didn’t get baby brain! When my daughter started school, I became a school governor and heard someone was needed to sit on The Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Panel at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council which was something I was very interested in.
“When my son started school, he needed more help as he’s autistic but I couldn’t find out who was responsible for funding – the council, the school, other organisations – so it became a bit of a personal mission to fight for education for people with additional needs and in 2011 I became a Borough and Parish councilor. I started on the Improving Lives board and used to be vice chair but stopped when I became Mayor in 2016-17.”
Rotherham’s youngest mayor (‘I turned 40 on 18th May and became Mayor on the 20th’) loved her role.
“It was a great time for me,” she says. “I really threw myself in and loved meeting so many people and raising money and awareness for charities.”
Ill health, however, continued to plague her. “I’ve had countless operations during my life and got glaucoma when I was Mayor but was treated in one day, and back to duties the next.”
And her resilience was undiminished – even after she suffered a stroke at the age of just 42.
“It was November 2018 and I couldn’t walk or talk to begin with. By May the following year, my speech was still slurred but I was walking – not as good as it was, even today. I still get very tired and my spatial awareness and memory have been affected.
“But I am a resilient person. My attitude is ‘This is what’s happening – you either make it or you fail’. It’s all about the process. I began with a walker, then a stick – that was my process. When I couldn’t walk, I knew I wasn’t going to run a marathon the next day, but I did climb Snowdon the following May. I struggled but I got to the top.”
Lyndsay also had the support of a lot of friends in the Barnsley and Rotherham business community along with many from across the Sheffield city Region.
“People like (Airmaster joint MD and former Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber President) Lisa Pogson and (Rotherham Pioneers) Jackie Freeborn were amazing. They really supported me and said ‘yes, you can do this’.”
Another friend who saw the strength in Lyndsay was Office Friendly sales director Keeley Shepherd.
After winning the 2019 ATHENA International Award, Lyndsay became Barnsley and Rotherham Women in Business Chair and took up her current role at Office Friendly.
“After being Mayor, I worked for Crossroads then onto MIND – it’s always been caring roles. Keeley knew about my health battles and got in touch because she thought I would be able to help get the word out there about Office Friendly.
“Office Friendly attracted me because the name is true – the ethos of the business is all about getting the best out of people working here and working together to support other businesses. It’s all about compassion and care – if we don’t think it’s right, we don’t do it. It’s not about making money, there’s a moral compass here.”
The company is a Business Development Specialist across three key areas – KascAid the creative and marketing agency, Pioneer the learning and development arm and Weaver, a corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social sustainability programme.
“With the business development side, I meet businesses who say, ‘we want to do this’ or ‘we want to be there’, and it’s all about the processes,” says Lyndsay. “Look at the turnover you want, and then work out and put a process in place to get there.
“Channel your personal growth into a business perspective. I always had a really positive attitude and I put that into my work, too. Because I nearly lost everything I can say to a business ‘take this chance, what have you got to lose?’. If you’re a sinking ship you will sink. But the plugs are out there, we can find them!
“I know from going from getting sales to being top of the tree, it’s hard to manage that switchover. You’ve been getting the buzz of the deal but it’s trusting your staff, nurturing them to develop. Make sure all the grassroots of best practice are there in your team and let them develop – as a boss you can’t be the big tree stood in the way! It can be hard for people and that’s why I like going into businesses to find out what the issues are and helping them adapt.”
Office Friendly’s HQ is at Sheffield Business Park at Europa Link – the site of the old Sheffield Airport. Together with the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP), it’s part of the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District with occupiers including the University of Sheffield’s Factory 2050. But it also retains the former airport tower, combining the region’s past, present and future, and talk soon turns to Brexit and trade.
Lyndsay describes representing Sheffield City Region on behalf of a British Embassy China Trade delegation in 2017 as ‘mind-blowing’.
“To be Mayor of Rotherham, representing our region and meeting all the diplomats in intense meetings, it was a real eye-opener and was exciting to go into that arena. It was mentioned in Whitehall afterwards as a really successful trade delegation and at that time Brexit had nothing to do with it. It was separate trade negotiations with the British Embassy delivering the message that we wanted the golden era to apply to the UK and China and sharing great ideas about how we could work together.
“It was a digital healthcare trade mission and included Irwin Mitchell and University of Sheffield Professors and while we were there looking for investment, we were able to showcase clinical computer systems and accredited systems in the government’s programme of modernising IT in the NHS.
“We also travelled all over from Xi’an to the border of Outer Mongolia and visited three hospitals – you would see vast fields and then then there was a hospital right in the middle, but the Chinese are forward-thinking. The mindset is ‘if we build it, they will come’.
“It can be a lengthy process for China to invest but just because it’s a different way of working, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”
And the trade mission opened Lyndsay’s eyes to other markets, too.
“Whether we want it or not Brexit is happening, and the business world has got to go with it. After January 31st we will have until December for the negotiations – things aren’t going to happen, or fall apart, overnight. What WILL happen is the uncertainly will be over and that uncertainty has been a real issue for businesses – how can you get a trade deal if you don’t know what your terms are or will be?
“We will have to make deals and agree terms with several different countries and that will open us up to new markets to invest with us – as the US has already indicated it wants to. It is going to be different, but it’s about attitude – if you think negative, it will be.
“The government have just got in with a large majority – they are not going to want to risk a recession or an NHS on its knees. In my opinion, they will be forced to strengthen the areas where they have gained seats. They will want a secure five years and for that they have to keep businesses secure. Without businesses we won’t have that stability, so the government will have to react and be proactive with decisions on the way forward.”
And closer to home?
“Come April when we’re South Yorkshire again not SCR, this will bring improvements, too – we’re all Yorkshire, we’re all working jointly with people in same situation and location and may well see more investments up north to make our network even stronger.
“The unique thing to South Yorkshire is we’re quite knitted together – outside our area it can be brutal, I know from friends who work in London!
“South Yorkshire feels more protected, possibly because of the success of the Cutlers. It was a bolthole of businesses – yes, gentleman businesses at the start – but it gave the city stability and those original grassroots have branched out into today’s Sheffield City Region. They embraced the future, now they have more female balance, too, welcoming change with past and future female Master Cutlers, the first being Pamela Liversidge in 2011-2012.
“We can survive outside the EU because we will survive. We’ve been great once on our own and we will have to be again. It will take time but it’s all about working together – businesses can’t be too precious about the deals they’re getting and comparing with others, if we’re all getting good trade deals we will all benefit.
“The area has gone through a massive change already after the mines closed – nobody wanted that to happen, I remember the fear, devastation and uncertainty then. Rotherham also used to be the poor relation to Sheffield, but now half of Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) belongs to Rotherham, plus we’ve got McLaren and Boeing. Where the mines used to be is where the AMP is now.
“We’ve come such a long way from a former mining area into manufacturing and construction – we’ve had to adapt a lot more than most other areas have done. But look at Orgreave beautiful now, with prospects and job creation, new housing and shops.
“It will be very interesting to see where are in 2025 because you’ve got to give it that course of time to build those markets. We didn’t go from mining villages to the AMP in a few years, it has taken time, but we need to be positive and look towards our future vision. My son’s job probably hasn’t even been invented yet!
“Look at the past and history, things change constantly and evolve – let’s embrace it and work together!”