The CIPD North East of England Awards 2017 featured seven categories. Each category recognises the impact HR&D professionals have on businesses and their people.

Sponsored by Sintons LLP

Winner: Balfour Beatty

Balfour Beatty is a leading international infrastructure group. It finances, develops, builds and maintains vital infrastructure.

In 2015 Leo Quinn joined Balfour as CEO and began a turnaround programme called Build to Last, targeting £200m of cash in and £100m of cost out.

The structure of the company was transformed, the removal of the old divisional model and management teams leaving a leaned out simplified organisation. The newly titled Strategic Business Units (SBUs) report directly into the CEO as opposed to a divisional MD.

The Support Functions, previously split divisionally, are now amalgamated into one Balfour Beatty UK Enabling Function. HR was the first Enabling Function to be transformed creating a centrally aligned typical Ulrich model.


Connect Health

Connect has grown from a single private clinic established in 1989 in the North East to being the largest provider of community musculoskeletal physiotherapy services in the UK. The HR team has grown from a team of three to a team of eight in the last 12 months. Specialists focus on all aspects of the colleague journey, from recruitment and attraction, to learning and development, to employee relations, pay and benefits. It aims to create outstanding people who are able to achieve their career goals, grow with the company and make Connect a great place to work. The HR team have been instrumental in the growth of the company helping increase colleague numbers by almost double, supported the set up in new locations, launched a new HR system and have been instrumental in the delivery of the new business strategy and values.

Nomad Digital

Nomad is an international business and the pioneer of the networked train, with 250 employees and product development facilities in the UK (Newcastle), Germany and Portugal. Its HR team’s credibility, skill, resilience and an amazing depth and breadth of expertise and collaboration has enabled Nomad to rise to the challenge of being part of a fast-moving digitalised market. The change has been major, from upsizing, downsizing and rightsizing and now culminating in supporting a transition of a successful acquisition by Alstom, going from 250 people to part of a community of 31,000. The team ethos has been to always do the right thing – seizing on the unique opportunity to build from scratch a road-map and then being empowered to then go and deliver.

Utilitywise plc

Utilitywise was founded in 2006 as an energy procurement service provider and now operates from its headquarters at Cobalt Business Park in North Tyneside. In order to support the overall group strategy and growth ambitions, Utilitywise introduced measures to improve retention and increase colleague engagement. Thus there has been significant investment in HR&D and the creation of its People Strategy & Plan. The strategy allowed Utilitywise to, in effect, rebuild the HR team from scratch, empowering and re-energising existing colleagues with new roles and responsibilities whilst also adding new functions so issues could be addressed head on. Ultimately, the People Strategy has a mission that the team are all united behind: ‘to build an organisation in which people feel they can make choices that enable them to do their best work... and be proud of it.’

Sponsored by CIPD North East of England

Winner: All Together Better Sunderland

All Together Better (ATB) is a trailblazing partnership that brings together health and social care professionals with a range of local support organisations, to improve the lives of people in Sunderland who need the most help and support to live independently. ATB is a pioneer Vanguard site and is developing and testing new models of care to transform and integrate the UK’s health and social sector.

The workforce at present are employed by the providing organisations, all working within different operating policies, organisational boundaries and very different working and leadership cultures.

An Organisational Development Plan was devised in partnership with the providing organisations to deliver system wide but bespoke pieces of OD work using the OD cycle as a vehicle to develop system leadership and develop integrated working.


Atom Bank

You won’t find an HR&D team at the Durham-based company (which employs 280 people) but rather a ‘People Experience’ team who have designed, delivered and embedded a whole new OD framework whilst still building and running the people function. The Atom Intelligence Framework – along with its values – underpin all people processes and is a huge driver within its recruitment strategy which is based on the understanding that everyone brings something different.

Nomad Digital

Nomad is an international business and pioneer of the networked train. It was apparent from the start of 2016 that Nomad would be acquired by French company Alstom so the HR&D team planned a post-acquisition structure that would be more adaptable to the new owners. Working with the management team, they were tasked with devising and implementing a global right-sizing plan and a subsequent management/departmental restructure. They ensured the company became a leaner, more productive organisation without losing the entrepreneurial spirit of innovation that helped make its name as an industry pioneer.

Sponsored by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service

Winner: Your Homes Newcastle

Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) is a social landlord that manages 26,500 homes on behalf of Newcastle City Council.

The organisation is structured to provide a landlord service to collect rent and to manage homes, but also heavily invests in providing support services for the tenants - ranging from furniture packs and a garden care service to providing tenants with financial advice and employment opportunities.

YHN has invested in employability since 2012 however in 2016 decided to enhance this through its Your Homes Your Jobs (YHYJ) programme which employs tenants to work for the organisation on six-month contracts.

They have increased the intake to employ up to 55 tenants in jobs including office administration, gardening and warehousing.


Home Group

Home Group is a market leader and one of the biggest housing associations in the world. Since 2013 Home Group has delivered a successful apprenticeship programme bringing new talent into the organisation. In 2016/17 the strategic decision was taken to employ only Home Group customers to the apprenticeships. It recruited 40 apprentices in 2013, growing to 60 in the last financial year. Crucially, given the high levels of unemployment amongst customers, employing them into paid roles with Home Group and improving their future career prospects has enabled them to earn their own money and be financially self-sufficient.

Sage UK Ltd

Sage UK Ltd is a market leader for integrated accounting, payroll and payment software with its roots in the North East.  It passionately believes in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, where different perspectives are welcomed and heard, with this delivering innovation. Building on previous award-winning work, Sage puts great importance on supporting women to achieve their ambitions in the technology sector. It also believes in a socially-responsible world and in playing a positive role in communities. Sage invests in making a real difference through the philanthropy of its Foundation.

Sponsored by Cintra HR & Payroll

Winner: Performance Horizon

Performance Horizon, based in Newcastle, is a leading provider of SaaS solutions for digital partner marketing, enabling brands to directly connect with their marketing partners to dramatically increase customer acquisition and drive high margin revenues from online marketing channels. It has offices in the US, UK, Japan, Germany and Australia.

Its People Success team of three cover all aspects of the employee life cycle and the team has expertise that reflects the Ulrich model of HR which it believes ensures an effective People Success team.  There is a strategic partner, employee champion and administrative expert – but all act in the capacity of employee champion.

Its supports employees to be the best they can be through the delivery of value added people practices that drive employee engagement.

Finalist: Bazaar Group

Bazaar group is a soft furnishings family-run specialist that employs 38 people at the Northumberland headquarters. They believe it is vital to have company-wide communication, recognition and reward for outstanding work and people development. Its HR team has created an eight-part people development and culture change programme. There are weekly communications meetings; ‘Fuddles’ (fun-huddles) to help build rapport between departments; an appraisal system; individual learning and development plans; pick and mix workshops; train the trainer; shadowing and coaching.

Sponsored by Connect Health

Winner: University of Sunderland

University of Sunderland is proud to be an employer of choice and holds numerous awards and accolades which demonstrate this commitment including Investors in People silver award and North East Better Health at Work silver award.

Their HR team is committed to ensuring the workforce and students are in good physical and mental health, enabling them to thrive. A decision was taken to raise awareness of mental health issues and reduce the stigma associates with this topic, making it a key priority in action plans.

The university, led by HR, has continued to develop and improve a holistic and flexible portfolio of well-being provisions, initiatives and disability support that are designed to enhance the individual wellbeing of staff and students and the collective well-being of the university community.


Atom Bank

Atom Bank puts people, both customers and employees, at the heart of its business. It offers employee benefits including occupational health cover, life insurance and private medical cover – all with an element of company contribution. A health and wellness week is run twice a year, one in winter which is focused on ‘beating the January blues’ and one focused on a summer theme. A wide range of activities take place with the most popular event being a petting zoo aimed at relieving stress and allowing everyone to get away from their desks. Alongside this, there is a monthly stress relieving activity, alternating between massages and a yoga or fitness class.


Cundall is a multi-disciplinary consultancy, delivering built environment projects around the world, with an emphasis on delivering sustainable solutions. Cundall’s HR&D Team looks after the global business from a base in Newcastle. The company cemented its reputation as “thought leaders” in the built environment by delivering the first “WELL” certified building in Europe. In planning for a move to new office premises in London, Cundall fitted out the new space to the “WELL Building Standard”, an evidence-based system focusing on building features which affect workplace health and wellbeing. It has also improved provision of changing facilities, showers and cycle racks plus on-site yoga classes.

Supported by North East of England Chamber of Commerce

Winner: Coveris Rigid UK Ltd

Coveris Rigid UK Ltd is a global company specialising in high performance packaging, with more than 10,000 global employees and 60 strategically located facilities. Specialising in the development and manufacturing of high-class rigid plastic, its Chester-Le-Street site has been transformed in recent years through its People Strategy.

Focussing on ‘growing and retaining its own talent’, the medium to longer term solution was to introduce Apprenticeship programmes across the business.

The impact of the People Strategy programme has been a very positive experience for the business and nine months in, it is already seeing a return on its investment. 

Apprentices are now maturing as young adults growing in confidence and making a huge contribution by delivering great results within their own job role and within their wider teams.


Hitachi Rail Europe

Hitachi Rail Europe is a total railway systems supplier offering rolling stock, traction equipment, signalling, traffic management systems, and maintenance depots. As part of the Department for Transport’s Intercity Express Programme, Hitachi Rail Europe won the contract to build 866 new rail carriages so a huge and complex process of recruiting 900 employees took place at the Newton Aycliffe site. The HR&D team has worked tirelessly over the last two years to ensure the right people are in place and that the train-building knowledge from Japan was transferred. They devised a hugely successful strategy to train people from a variety of backgrounds in a very short timescale to build high quality trains to run on the UK network.

Utilitywise plc

Utilitywise is a high paced, high growth organisation which has grown over the last 10 years from a fledgling business to one that now supports tens of thousands of companies across the UK and Ireland, and into Europe. It introduced its People Strategy & Plan 2016-2020 which defines a number of critical metrics to support growth ambitions, with attrition and colleague engagement being at the forefront. The highly successful Utilitywise Ignite Foundation Programme was launched in June 2016, as a 12-week blended learning programme, providing intensive skills training and effectively integrating new starters into the business.

Supported by North East of England Chamber of Commerce

Winner: Home Group

Home Group’s mission is to build homes, independence and aspirations. It is a market leader and one of the biggest housing associations in the world.

The HR&D team is made up of 55 people and has successfully enabled the transition from the traditional recruitment model to a proactive resourcing model with an embedded e-recruitment system (including manager self-service), new employer brand and social media channels.

In line with Home Group’s digital and strategic goals, an e-recruitment system (Taleo) was sourced enabling manager self-service aligned with Oracle HR implementation and a culture of managers taking more accountability.

Home Group also aims to become an Employer of Choice by increasing its presence in the jobs market and social media.


Atom Bank

This challenger bank, which offers customers an alternative to the traditional high street banks, has grown significantly in under three years, from six to 280 passionate people. The People Experience team were tasked with building the team to create and build the UK’s first mobile app only bank, including the Customer Support Agents. This involved designing and implementing a recruitment process from scratch that not only aligned to the culture and goals of the organisation, but gave candidates the chance to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, experience – and to have fun. Atom has invested much time and effort in ensuring that the recruitment process captured all the elements it looks for in prospective employees using video auditions, boot camps and informal chats during the process.

Sunderland College

Sunderland College is one of the largest providers of education in the North East, it has a turnover in excess of £40m and employs around 600 staff. Recognising the significant shortage of skilled engineers within the UK, the college has invested heavily in its Engineering department. In order to attract new staff and grow the department, the college’s HR&D team organised an Engineering Recruitment open event, resulting in six new appointments. The event was carefully planned and advertised by the team and was a huge success. Longer term it is envisaged that this in turn will have a positive impact in the provision of fully qualified and competent learners to local and national engineering industries.