Behind the Job - Helen Hughes, Sustainability Manager at Newcastle United Football Club

  • 10th May 2023

Tell us about you and your job

I studied Environmental Management and Technology at Bradford University before working within sustainability in both the public and private sector.

For 18-years, I worked at Newcastle International Airport and was responsible for all environmental management, this included the production of the airport’s Net Zero carbon strategy. I then applied my environmental strategies within the public sector during my time at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

I’m delighted to now be working at Newcastle United Football Club. Everyday I’m working with different teams across the club and external partners to make positive long-lasting change by introducing new sustainable systems and better ways of working.

What key skills do you need as a Sustainability Manager?

Strong communication and negotiating skills are important. Working with teams right across the club means I come into contact with different people everyday and everybody has different views and knowledge on sustainability and what is best practice.  

Building good relationships is vital to ensure everyone is onboard and understands why the new systems and strategies I am implementing are important - not just for the club but the fans as well as the wider city and the region as a whole.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m usually working on several different projects and strategies at a time. Right now, I’m working on increasing recycling across all three sites and developing a Sustainability strategy to embed Sustainability practises throughout the business.

I’m always looking for inspiration and examples of how others are making sustainable changes. Recently on a visit to Wembley Stadium I was impressed by their water refill stations and I’m now working with the club to see how we can install our own. 

A large majority of my time is spent building relations within the club as well as with suppliers and partners so I can better understand the current systems in place and offer advice as well as highlighting the importance of sustainability.

Why did you choose a career within sustainability?

I’ve always been passionate about sustainability and how we can empower everyone to play their part in bringing about long-lasting change.

I studied Environmental Science at A-Level and felt inspired after learning how we can help to manage our impact on the environment. After university, I knew that I wanted to work within the corporate world to help businesses be sustainable and make a difference. 

Why is sustainability so important in Facilities Management? 

Today the younger generation isn’t just demanding change, they're leading on making a real difference right across our society.

I’ve been working within corporate sustainability for over two decades and I recognise that there’s still a long way to go. Ideally, sustainability should be as ingrained and important as health and safety across all businesses.

It is imperative not only for the future but for right now to take steps, no matter how small, to protect the environment and create efficient and sustainable workplace environments.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about a career within sustainability?

There’s a wide variety of sustainability degrees across the UK so it's important to consider what you’re passionate about. I’d highly recommend looking for a degree that includes a one-year placement so you can get industry experience while studying.

Experience is key when looking to get a job within sustainability. While university gives you a grounding in the theory, being able to show how you’ve made an impact by putting what you’ve learned into practice is crucial. Alongside a placement, also consider taking on work experience or volunteering.

How did you find working with the team at Coleman James?

The Facilities Management Division at Coleman James was amazing and I have to say a special thank you to Nikki Blenkhorn, Associate Director of Facilities Management, for her constant support throughout the whole process.

Applying to work with Newcastle United was a dream opportunity for me. Nikki kept me updated throughout the interview process and gave me honest feedback and reassured me. When I finally got the call that I got the job Nikki was the first person I told. 

I’ve not worked with a recruitment company before but I can’t fault Coleman James, they’ve been fantastic.