Kathryn’s challenge to get the young OnSide

Kathryn Morley from Preston Youth Zone Plus
Kathryn Morley from Preston Youth Zone Plus

It’s not too fanciful to say that Goosnargh’s Kathryn Morley has gone from selling flowers to selling hope.

The one time international business executive, who created her own company to set up a flower supply chain for a major supermarket and also worked closer to home as managing director of Inglewhite based Butler’s Farmhouse Cheeses, is the new chief executive for north-west based charity OnSide.

It is a job she is relishing doing, particularly as OnSide’s next project is on her home turf.

The charity is the driving force behind ambitious plans to create a £6m Youth Zone+ in Preston, a project which aims, in its own words, to give young Prestonians aged eight to 19 “somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to seven days a week”.

For Kathryn, the job advertisement caught her eye at just the right time. She explains: “I just didn’t know what to do next. I had done lots and lots of stuff in the food industry and I had been quite successful. I read the advertisement and thought ‘This is my job.’”

OnSide was, she recalled, looking for someone who was driven and had experience of managing teams and building a business.

Kathryn said: “I built up a lot of businesses and I can manage organisations through to the next level.”

She cites her experience as managing director at International Produce Ltd and extensive experience sorting out international and British food supply chains working for household name companies.

“I’ve done mushrooms, potatoes a range of salads and all fruits,” she said.

She also had a spell, earlier in her career, at Garstang’s North Country Poultry, a job which first brought her to the region.

“I did manage to convince them it was my job. I’ve only been here two months – it’s an amazing organisation. Now they’ve done five (Youth Zones) in five years, they’ve decided to do 20 in 20 and that’s where I come in,” said Kathryn.

“This is a whole new departure for me, I’m from the food industry. But OnSide is a very unusual charity, it’s very young.”

The post also appealed, she said, because it was created with the support of north west businesspeople and has a business-like approach to its work.

It was also a new challenge following the successful creation of the flower business.

“I was 50 last October and that was another reason why I was wondering what to do with myself. I’d had the first half of adult life – the next half is 50 to 80. At 50 you can see yourself as being nearly over – I see myself as half way through,” she said.

Kathryn’s taste for business was acquired at an early age. Brought up in Nottingham, she studied economics and accountancy at the University of Bristol and joined a graduate training scheme with Christian Salvesen .

“I just wanted to succeed as a woman in a man’s world, so I put myself into a male dominated environment,” added Kathryn.

The new job also has a special appeal for Kathryn because it builds on earlier work. Before she had her own family she fostered a teenage child and says: “I’ve done rape crisis counselling and set up an incest survivors’ group in my younger days.”

Her own background also gave her a special insight into the potential difficulties of teenage years.

“As a young person I had quite an unconventional childhood. I was one of four and had a chaotic home life. That drives me particularly towards supporting the older age group,” she said.

“I lost my mum when I was 13. She had mental health problems and ended up committing suicide.”

This has not caused her long term problems, she says, but it does make her appreciate there are lots of ways young people can have problem lives, irrespective of wealth of background.

She is also aware it may not always be immediately apparent the sort of issues young people are dealing with and is now planning to do some voluntary youth mentoring work.

“I think young people’s mental health is quite a serious issue. It’s a big area that’s perhaps unaddressed,” said Kathryn.

Home for Kathryn and family – children Ailsa (18), Harry (17) and nine-year-old Lanre plus partner Alex – is a property reputed to be the oldest house in Goosnargh, a 17th century cottage.

From this base, over the past 18 years she has travelled far and wide, at times working from a Peterborough HQ.

At one time she also regularly commuted to Canada.

She pays tribute to her former husband and to Alex for caring for the children during her commuting years, saying: “You have to have somebody else taking the strain because if you’re going to have a serious career you have to be available.”

But as her older children got to their mid-teens she decided it was a time for a job closer to home, hence the move in 2008 to Butler’s, where she stayed for two and a half years.

She says: “It was getting time to be around. I have a belief that it’s the older children that need you more. They probably don’t need as much time, but they need you hanging around in the background for the moment when they need you.”

Kathryn’s company, set up to create and sell on the flower supply business, is called Adelantar (Spanish for “getting ahead in business”) and it is a motto she has lived and worked by:

“I love the problem solving..complex, difficult to resolve issues and finding a way through them and seeing things come to fruition. It can be good fun,” said Kathryn.

“I’m taking OnSide to the next level and I feel so privileged to have been given this. I feel a real responsibility because I’ve been given something fantastic... I believe OnSide truly could be the organisation that delivers a Youth Zone in every town.”