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Redworth - still going strong 25 years on

As a NorSCA Past President, current Committee member and NorSCA Courses organiser, Pam Clarke, is a familiar face to many ICAEW members in the northeast. Ahead of a very special anniversary for the Redworth Conference for General Practitioners, Jane Walker talked to Pam about the origins of the event and why it’s proved to be so enduring

How it all began…

Whilst the Redworth Conference is about to turn 25, there’s been an annual conference for general practitioners running in the region for several decades. A change of venue and approach in the 90s saw Pam – now the only remaining member of the original Redworth Committee to still be involved in the event – make the move from delegate to co-organiser.

“I’d attended the event as a delegate for a number of years, then the organisers invited me to join them for dinner to talk about ways to improve the conference. By the end of the meal I found myself tasked with liaising with a potential new venue, Redworth Hall Hotel, which Chris Robson had had his eye on for a while” explains Pam.

“If memory serves, I not only left the restaurant with a list of things to do, but I also ended up paying for my own meal!” she laughs.

A very special setting

The venue is one of the many things that makes Redworth so special. A 17th centaury Jacobean manor house, set in 26 acres of landscaped grounds, many delegates find it a welcome change from the modern hotels where many conferences typically take place.

In addition to the stunning surroundings, the hotel also boasts a well-equipped fitness suite and a luxurious spa, meaning that there’s plenty to appeal to partners and family members who opt to join delegates for the weekend.

Relaxed and welcoming

“One of my favourite things about Redworth is how relaxed and welcoming it is, there are people – both delegates and speakers – who return year after year, which gives it a bit of a family feeling, plus many delegates bring along partners and family members” says Pam.

In fact, she tells me, the youngest ever attendee was just two and a half months old the first time he accompanied his mum to the event. “Needless to say he was very much fussed over, especially by the staff who, more recently, he charmed into feeding him grapes all weekend!” Pam recalls.

Informal and informative

The warm, relaxed atmosphere extends throughout the event and means that attendees not only have the chance to chat to the expert speakers beyond the confines of the conference room, but they can also connect with fellow delegates.

“Because it’s such an informal and friendly set up, people feel comfortable opening up with each other in a way that they might not at a one day course” says Pam, “Quite often people get chatting after a session and mention that they’re worried about X or have an issue with Y, only to find that others in the room are facing – or have faced – the same thing. It means they get to exchange ideas and information, or just talk about the issue with someone who understands. For sole practitioners, or those in small firms, that’s a great opportunity”.

Designed with delegates in mind

“All very relevant content” is how one delegate summed up the event. Given the care that goes into planning the programme, such a response isn’t too surprising.

“When we’re planning the programme we look at delegate feedback from the previous year and also consider what are likely to be the big topics for the profession going forward, and use that as the basis for the programme. It means that we cover the areas that matter to delegates and keep things topical and relevant. For example, this year we’re looking at how the introduction of GDPR has impacted on business; exploring the use of the cloud; and discussing how to deal with HMRC investigations. Plus, as the conference is just weeks before Making Tax Digital comes in, we’re giving members a final chance to put their questions to some real experts on the subject”.

In addition to key business and tax topics, there are plenty of sessions designed to equip delegates with essential information they’ll need personally, but which will also allow them to better help their clients.

“This year, for example, we have a couple of sessions about planning for later life – one from a tax angle and one from a broader perspective – not only will delegates gain personally from these, but they’ll also be able to spot things that their clients should be aware of, which means that they can help make sure their client is on top of things” says Pam. “It’s a small thing but it’s something that helps add value.”

A wide range of topics

The breadth of content covered over the weekend is a real selling point for many. “General practitioners need to cover a lot of areas for their clients, so we make sure that the conference covers as wide a range of subjects as possible” explains Pam.

A glance at this year’s schedule proves her point; the packed programme includes talks on working with apprentices; updates on Sector Deals; a session on helping clients avoid employment tribunals; and a talk on improving your potential from CABA.

There will also be practitioner, business and tax updates designed to make sure you’re up-to-speed with the latest legislation.

A host of experts

This year’s speaker line-up features some new experts as well as the welcome return of some familiar faces.

Jonny Green from the North East Regional Cyber Crime Unit will be looking at how to protect your business against cyber-crime; Stephen McAlpine will be looking at accounting and practice issues; and renowned tax expert, Rebecca Benneyworth, will be delivering a range of tax talks, as well as her ever-popular Rebecca on Request Q&A session.

“I think it’s safe to say there’s something for everyone” says Pam.

Redworth 2019 takes place from 1 to 3 March.