Darlington Building Society has invested in the future of the business by attracting experts with a wealth of experience in a range of key roles.

The latest recruits to the Society include Gemma Dickinson (Head of Learning and Development); Mark Watson (Senior Regulatory Reporting Manager); Jonathan Hedley (Business Intelligence Team Lead); Ian Oyston (IT Operations Manager); Duncan Fitzpatrick (Balance Sheet Manager); and Rachel Dalby (Head of Marketing and Communications).

Gemma, who hails from Sunderland, brings more than 20 years’ experience in human resources, specialising in learning and development.

She started her career working weekends and evenings at Littlewoods Home Shopping Centre, in Sunderland, before an opportunity arose to join the Employee Development team.

Before joining Darlington Building Society, she had progressed up the career ladder to become a Learning Business Partner in commercial insurance with AXA.

Gemma said: “Darlington Building Society is an exceptional employer, with a real emphasis on looking after its people. We’ve offered a lot in learning and development, but there’s still more we can do by being more proactive and taking a more commercially-aligned approach, so there are clear benefits to the Society and its members.”

Mark Watson, who hails from Belfast, started his career as an office junior with the Progressive Building Society, straight after his A-levels.

As he progressed up the ladder, he went on to take his full chartered accountancy examinations, followed by the risk management in financial services qualifications.

After 17 years with the Progressive, the last eight in a senior regulatory reporting role, he made the switch to Darlington Building Society, having seen how remote working opportunities had been opened up during the Covid pandemic.

“Within 15 minutes of the interview with Darlington Building Society, it just felt like a great fit because of the friendly culture, and it offered me an opportunity to progress my career. It’s such a talented team, not just in finance, but across the organisation.”

Jonathan Hedley was also raised in Sunderland, and started his working life as a support worker in the pathology department of Sunderland Royal Hospital, before becoming a data assurance analyst.

After 18 years in the NHS, he spent a year working for an IT company, Atos, before joining Darlington Building Society in a newly-created role, using data insights to improve the business.

Jonathan said: “As well as an opportunity to expand my skills, I was really attracted by the Society’s culture. Everyone is so friendly, and I love the way the Society is so supportive of the community. It’s just a great place to be.”

Stockton-born Ian Oyston nurtured his interest in IT during an after-school club as a child, and embarked on a two-year training course with ITEC, in Hartlepool, when he was 16.

During that time, he was given a “fantastic opportunity” to represent the UK in the International Youth Skills Olympics – a prestigious competition testing young people’s aptitude in IT – and he won the gold medal, along with £12,000 worth of computer equipment.

“It was an amazing boost to my confidence and it kick-started my career in IT,” said Ian, who started as a junior programmer in a chemical company and progressed into management.

Before joining Darlington Building Society, he had worked for six years managing a growing IT team at training and education specialist, Learning Curve Group.

“I wanted to get into the finance sector, and building societies especially, because of what they do for society. With Darlington Building Society, it’s all about the members and the local community, not just profits,” added Ian.

A particular appeal was the Society’s annual pledge to donate 5% of its profits to good causes.

“I wanted be part of it and help make a difference, and it’s been amazing so far to be working an organisation that’s professional, collaborative and embraces change.”

Duncan Fitzpatrick grew up in Chester-le-Street and, after university, became an accountant with ACC Distribution, an arm of the Co-op.

Duncan then spent 15 years at Newcastle Building Society, passing his Treasury qualifications, and becoming Balance Sheet Manager in 2009, just after the global financial crash.

He moved to Cumberland Building Society as Balance Sheet Manager four years ago, and did consultancy work for Deloitte last year before coming to Darlington Building Society.

Duncan said: “I’d wanted to work for Darlington Building Society for a while because of its reputation as a great place to work. With the development of online banking, there’s huge potential for growth and we can be the ones who do it best.”

Rachel Dalby was born and raised in Stockton-on-Tees and brings more than 25 years’ experience in marketing and communications with a particular focus on the financial services, professional services, and construction sectors.

Rachel started her career promoting training courses and apprenticeships in the sector skills council for Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies, rising to become head of the marketing team at BE Group, in Seaham, which managed Business Link and UK Trade and Investment brands.

Having built up strong B2B experience, she broadened her B2C experience by spending nine years with national financial services firm, Gale and Phillipson, then four years in construction, before joining Darlington Building Society.

She said: “Having spent so much of my career working in customer-centric organisations, I jumped at the opportunity to work for Darlington Building Society. As a Society, we put members before profit, and we put a real emphasis on improving member engagement and member experiences, products and both online and in-branch services.

“I have an exciting opportunity to help drive digital transformation and lead a proactive commercial approach to marketing and communications, which will support the organisation and its members.”