The largest college group in the North East region has appointed its new chair.

Education Partnership North East (EPNE), which comprises Sunderland College, Hartlepool Sixth Form College and Northumberland College, has announced that its new group chair is James Stuart, an experienced senior leader who boasts an impressive track record working across a range of sectors.

James, who is founder and director of One Planet Consulting, a Darlington based business which supports senior leaders to develop sustainable sector and business strategies, was appointed following a rigorous recruitment process to replace outgoing chair Rob Lawson OBE.

Having began his career in the military, he has since enjoyed a varied career spanning sport, tourism, science and enterprise, and has a keen focus on sustainability both in his current executive role and in his capacity as non-executive chair of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority and non-executive advisor to Scottish Forestry. James is also a member of the audit and governance committee of the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

James said: “I have worked – and continue to support leaders – across a range of sectors and the thing almost all have in common is the way in which they are constrained due to not having the supply of skills they need to thrive.

“I am someone who believes passionately that we should not just observe challenges, but try to address them and through this role, I can hopefully play a part in ensuring that we connect education with enterprise, and ensure we have the skills pipeline we need to support the region’s economy – in particular the emerging green economy, which – after all – is the future.”

He added: “This role is not about turning around an organisation. EPNE is a high performing group that has an incredible leadership team and an exceptionally talented board in place.

“I very much feel I am standing on the shoulders of giants, bringing supportive challenge, a fresh perspective that is shaped by experience across a range of sectors, and also a keen focus on shaping a high-performance culture that is underpinned by governance that debates, discusses and shares.”

James’ appointment will see him work alongside chief executive, Ellen Thinnesen, and the group’s senior leadership team, to shape the strategic direction of EPNE and ensure that the governing body offers robust and effective challenge and diversity of thinking.

Ellen Thinnesen OBE, chief executive of EPNE, said: “I am thrilled and delighted that James has agreed to join us as chair of the board, and bring his wealth of experience and expertise to help us on our exciting journey as an ambitious college group.

“We have taken great strides over the last few years, following mergers with Hartlepool Sixth Form College and more recently Northumberland College, and we have hugely exciting plans for further significant capital investment that will boost our estates and position us perfectly to support our students and communities in emerging industries, fuelling the green economy.

“James’s appointment will augment this positive momentum-build, and I am very much looking forward to working with him to ensure we deliver the most highly-prized talent to drive the region’s economic growth.”

Alongside James, EPNE board member Professor Alison Shaw has been appointed as vice chair of the corporation. Alison has a distinguished career in school, further and higher education and is currently professor of practice for student success and progression at Newcastle University.

The appointments follow the departure of Rob Lawson, who stepped down from his position at the end of 2021, following two full terms as chair of governors for EPNE, which was formed under his stewardship after Sunderland College’s first merger with Hartlepool Sixth Form College in 2017.

Why Education Partnership North East (EPNE)?

Highly commended - Employer of the Year, Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2019

Engagement with Employers - Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award 2017

(Sunderland College On-programme Survey 2017)

Selected by DfE for 2021 T Level pilot to deliver the new high-quality technical qualifications.

98% overall employer satisfaction - Employer Survey 2018/19