PETER BARRON meets an expert responsible for maintaining the solid financial foundations that enable Darlington Building Society to fulfil its proud pledge to invest five per cent of its profits into local good causes...

GIVEN that her current role is all about maintaining a secure business foundation at one of the North-East’s most respected financial institutions, Janie Robertshaw’s past experience makes her a force to be reckoned with.

Janie’s impressive CV includes a vital role looking after the interests of Durham Constabulary – officially recognised as Britain’s highest-rated police force.

As Risk and Continuity Manager she was responsible for ensuring that the force was prepared for every eventuality, and always able to offer a public service no matter what might happen.

These days, Janie is Prudential and Credit Risk Manager for Darlington Building Society, a role which effectively means she is policing the financial dealings of the organisation and ensuring it always operates from a safe financial foundation.

“I loved my time with the police, but working for Darlington Building Society is the best job I’ve ever had,” she says, with unhesitating certainty, from the society’s head office in Darlington. “It feels like I’m part of a family that’s passionate about looking after the interests of its members so it can support the wider community – and I just love that.”

Having grown up in South Shields, Janie studied psychology and sociology at Durham University, then began her career with an accountancy firm in London, looking after corporate tax.

From there, she moved to Barclays and began to build up her expertise in the area of credit risk.

After a career break during which she lived in Portugal for four years, Janie returned to her native North-East to take up the role with Durham Police before transferring her skills to Virgin Money in Newcastle, where she worked in risk frameworks and the prudential team.

Janie joined Darlington Building Society in March 2017 and, although she faces the long drive from South Shields to Darlington each day, she says it’s worth it to have such a rewarding role.

Janie has two main areas of responsibility. On the prudential side of the business, she checks that the society has enough money to meet its commitments and absorb any losses.

Her other focus is on credit risk – ensuring the safeguards are in place so when money is lent out, it is done so in the most secure way possible.

“It’s about looking after members’ interests every step of the way and ensuring the business can continue in a safe way,” she says.

“Of course, we have to abide by financial regulations, but Darlington Building Society definitely goes the extra mile, and that’s why it’s a pleasure to be part of the team.

“Darlington Building Society is a relatively small organisation, and being listened to is part of the culture, so it’s easier to make things happen. That’s what I really love about working here – being able to effect change in ways I could never do before.”

Indeed, making a difference is what Darlington Building Society is all about. Its overriding purpose is to improve the lives of its members, and those in local communities, by encouraging savings and supporting home ownership.

Through its ongoing pledge to invest five per cent of its profits in a wide range of community good causes, the difference Darlington Building Society is making is growing every day.

“There is a direct correlation between the work Janie does in establishing that solid foundation and being able to support the community,” says Caroline Darnbrook, Darlington Building Society’s Director, Products and Marketing.

“It’s only by having total confidence in the security of the business that we can go out and have an impact in the community.”

There are countless examples of that community engagement, but a recent addition to the list is support for a Homework Club launched in local secondary schools by the Darlington Cares organisation.

It is an initiative which is reaching the heart of communities, and DBS has provided not only financial backing but staff time.

While Nando’s supplies nutritious meals to help youngsters to concentrate, volunteers from the building society go into the schools once a week to work with 11 to 13-year-olds to support them with their homework.

The volunteers also run workshops on budgeting and managing money.

“The Homework Club has quickly established itself as an invaluable community project with numerous social benefits, and it’s something we’re looking to expand,” says Caroline.

Another new community project benefitting from the building society’s five per cent pledge is an outreach programme with Bowes Museum.

That programme, which links a number of community organisations to the magnificent museum at Barnard Castle, aims to support more than 700 people.

For example, children from Corporation School, in Darlington, recently spent a day at Bowes, taking part in educational projects such as Lego building, and using paintings of Venice as the inspiration for their own works of art.

Right from the outset – when the society was formed in 1856 under its original name of the Darlington Working Men’s Equitable Permanent Building Society – the objective was to benefit local people.

Much has changed about the way we live since then, but the purpose and ethos of Darlington Building Society has never wavered.

In the last financial year, the society’s five per cent pledge has equated to £80,000, with 88 organisations supported and 19,060 people benefitting.

The commitment to sharing relates to time as well as money, with DBS staff also spending 111 days volunteering with local organisations.

It is thanks to solid financial foundations – policed by passionate and committed experts like Janie Robertshaw – that Darlington Building Society is making a bigger difference than ever before.