Hazel Fitzsimmons has worked at the authority for 28 years

A former apprentice who rose up the ranks to a leadership role at Northumberland National Park Authority, is held up as a shining example of how female talent can be supported and developed this International Women’s Day, Friday 8 March.  

Hazel Fitzsimmons joined Northumberland National Park Authority within two weeks of completing her GCSE exams in 1996 and 28 years later, has been appointed Director of Finance and Resources for Northumberland National Park Authority. 

Hazel Fitzsimmons’ career began on a Youth Trainee Apprenticeship in the front office administration team when the National Park was part of Northumberland County Council. 

To begin with, Hazel supported the finance team one day a week while carrying out her administrative role, but when the park became an independent body, the finance function moved in house and Hazel secured a permanent job as a finance officer. 

Hazel’s manager was keen on developing staff and so mentored Hazel and encouraged her and the other newly appointed finance officers to study for a finance AAT qualification, a globally recognised accounting qualification.  

Throughout her early career she was given opportunities to challenge herself and develop skills, knowledge, and expertise. She was tasked with bringing payroll in house, a function that is often outsourced and was supported to become chartered accountant with time off to support her studies. 

A reorganisation in 2011 meant that Hazel was given the opportunity to step up to the finance manager role, which included the statutory role of chief financial officer for the National Park. But throughout this potentially daunting prospect, Hazel said she felt supported and championed by everyone at the National Park Authority. 

Around this time, Hazel had her two children, and she found the park to be incredibly flexible allowing her to work part time and appointing a job share to fulfil her demanding role so that she could balance her new family life while still developing her career. 

Then came Hazel’s biggest career opportunity to date. She played an instrumental role project managing the finances and Heritage Lottery funding for the development of The Sill: Landscape Discovery Centre, the £10m plus capital funded project to build Northumberland National Park’s flagship visitor centre. 

Supported directly by the chief executive, Hazel said that something she initially agreed to with trepidation turned out to be the best career development opportunity to date and she was proud of playing her part in getting the The Sill open to the public. 

In 2018, Hazel was appointed Head of Business Support, which involved wider responsibilities for all business support functions.  Now part of the leadership team, it opened her eyes as to how strategic decisions were reached and paved the way for her to step up into her new role as Director of Finance and Resources in 2024. 

Reflecting on her impressive 28-year career, Hazel said: “I could never have imagined when I started, direct from school, that I would still work for the same organisation 28 years later, let alone be director.  I have enjoyed a steady increase in responsibility throughout my time at the park and I have been supported and encouraged at every turn, for which I am extremely grateful.  

“When I hear about the challenges some women face in the workplace, it could not be more different to my experience at Northumberland National Park.  Staff are encouraged and developed based on their potential, drive and skills, not their sex, age or any other factor and the flexible policies enable women to be family, as well as, career orientated, which makes all the difference. Northumberland National Park Authority is a wonderful place to work, and I would encourage anyone to invest in an organisation that supports you in fulfilling your potential.”   

 Women make a significant contribution to Northumberland National Park Authority, with 70% of the workforce being female.  

This progressive approach was recognised in 2022 when Northumberland National Park Authority was named most inspiring female medium business employer in the North-East Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Inspiring Females Awards’. 

Tony Gates, Chief Executive Officer at Northumberland National Park Authority said: “The National Park Authority has established routes for professional development across the organisation, offering opportunities for individuals to gain experience and move into specialist roles or to enhance their overall skills and expertise. Notably, our workforce boasts a high percentage of accomplished women, underlining our steadfast commitment to supporting and advancing a workforce which helps everyone fulfil their potential. People are at the core of our organisation, fostered by a flexible and supportive work environment that ensures every individual can make meaningful contributions to our shared goals. Our next goal will be to achieve an even more diverse workforce. 

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. It is celebrated on 8 March annually and this year’s theme is inspiring inclusion which aims to forge a more inclusive world for women.