Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Leading Success Story; the Leadership Charity Common Purpose Operates around the World but Started in the North East 25 Years Ago. MICHAEL BROWN Reports on a Success Story That Is Coming out of the Shadows

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Leading Success Story; the Leadership Charity Common Purpose Operates around the World but Started in the North East 25 Years Ago. MICHAEL BROWN Reports on a Success Story That Is Coming out of the Shadows

Article excerpt

DEPENDING on your point of view - and it is an organisation that inspires many and varied views - Common Purpose is either a vast left-wing conspiracy or one of the great success stories of the North East of recent times.

The charity, which teaches people to become better leaders, ran its first course on Tyneside in 1989 and now operates in more than 100 countries around the world. Each year 4,000 people go through the courses with a thriving office still operating in the North East.

Yesterday hundreds of leaders from the world of business and politics gathered at the Baltic art gallery in Gateshead to celebrate a quarter century of Common Purpose.

The celebration, though, was a rare public event for an organisation that has been accused - wrongly, it insists - of operating in secret and using that secrecy to gain links into many areas of public life.

Those accusations came to a head two years ago when a number of articles in the right-wing press accused it of operating "like some giant octopus with tentacles into every cranny of the inner sanctums of Westminster, Whitehall and academia."

The organisation was caught up in a number of newspapers' anti-Leveson inquiry coverage because David Bell, part of the inquiry's assessors, is a trustee of Common Purpose.

"It was utterly ridiculous stuff," said Fiona O'Connor, operations director of the charity in the North East. "Though perhaps one positive thing to come out of that is that it made us look really carefully at what we do and how we can be more open about that. Once you reach a particular size and gain prominence there will always be people who want to knock you down, but we'll keep on doing what we're doing."

The charity operates under the Chatham House Rule, which means that information discussed should not be attributed outside charity meetings. Common Purpose says this encourages people to speak freely, though it has added to the accusations of secrecy which surround it.

When asked by The Journal for a list of its alumni, none was forthcoming, though its website does advertise freely that its graduates have included North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham, Stephen Bell, chief executive of the charity Changing Lives (formerly the Cyrenians) and Lieutenant Colonel Simon Pritchard, Commanding Officer, Royal Marine Reserve.

It has also worked with a who's who of organisations in the region, including Northumberland County Council, Teesside and Sunderland universities, Dickinson Dees law firm, Nissan, Greggs and Metro operators Nexus.

Mr Ramsbotham speaks on the charity's website of his experiences on the Common Purpose course in the mid-1990s.

He said: "I was able to look at the bigger picture because of the Common Purpose approach. …

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