WOOLWORTHS was one of the stalwarts of the British high street when Mark Rycraft began his retail career at its Southport branch, aged 18.

The collapse of the chain four years ago sent shockwaves through high streets and shopping centres. Established names such as Thorntons, Clinton Cards, Focus DIY, Mothercare and furnishing retailer Habitat are among those to have suffered in its wake.

“It is still a very challenging time,” said Mr Rycraft, the manager ofMiddleton Grange Shopping Centre, in Hartlepool , who has seen scores of retailers come and go during his 25 years in the sector.

“We are always looking to make things better for the customers who come here – you cannot stand still because this is such a competitive world.” It was a road trip across the US that prompted Mr Rycroftto ditch his dreams of joining the police force and find a career to suit his talents.

He said: “I had been working at a summer camp in Wisconsin and afterwards took a trip across the eastern States, which gave me plenty of time to think and plan what to do next.

“The police were not recruiting atthe time, so I started as an assistant shopping centre manager at a small centre in Southport with about 18 shops.”

He studied for a diploma in shopping centremanagement and began to scale the career ladder at centres, fromSurrey to Greater Manchester. He said: “I got the bug. In my job, you face a million different challenges every day, from dealing with security matters to managing budgets and I quickly grew to love it.

“If you want to progress in our industry and manage bigger and bigger centres, then you must be prepared to uproot your family when opportunity comes knocking”

He now manages 60 staff and oversees 150 stores and an indoor market at the Hartlepool town centre site.

“Like all centres we have suffered fromvacancies when the national companies have been hit with administration and closures.

“But we have done better than many others. For example, at the time when Peacocks and Bon Marche were closing stores all over the country, both stayed open here because they were profitable.”

What did he know about Hartlepool before he moved there?

“I’d never really heard of it,” he admits. “I had family in Stanley , County Durham, we used to visit when I was a child, so I knew a bit about the North-East. Now that I live here I love it and don’t want to leave.”


Favourite North-East building?

The Co-op Building, in Park Road, in Hartlepool. It’s a classic building that provides an insight into the town’s past.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid?

I had a milk round at 12. My dad made me a trolley cart. I was paid in meat pies on Saturdays and 50p a day through the week.

What is the worst job you’ve had?

Working at a meat packaging company handling slabs of raw meat. I am now a vegetarian.

What would you cook for me if I came for dinner?

A chickpea and mixed beanburger with quinoa cooked in orange and garnished with lemon rind sided with hummus and a tofu and ginger dip.

What would your superpower be?

Mr Apostrophe. I would save businesses thousands of pounds and embarrassment by swooping down to anyone about to pay to have business letterheads and sign-writing undertaken where the apostrophe is misused.

Most expensive thing you’ve bought, other than a car or a house, and how much?

Plasma screen TV just as they became the rage for £2,500, it’s worth less than £200 now.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?

Graham Soult @soult. I like Graham’s tweets because they are insightful and are real on the ground, reports and feedback. He is enthusiastic about vibrant high streets and this is evident from his websites and tweets.

Favourite book?

Don’t sweat the small stuff, and It’s all Small Stuff, by Richard Carlson. An easy-to-read an inspiring book. I refer to it a lot.

What is your greatest achievement?

My greatest personal achievement was becoming a special constable for Greater Manchester Police for three years until moving to Hartlepool. I assisted with the night-time and weekend policing of Bury town centre, with some neighbourhood policing.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Plan, do, check, act.

Favourite animal and why?

My favourite animal is the tiger, especially the white tiger. Growing up, I remember the Esso adverts and their branding campaign used the tiger. They are majestic and have a lovely colour and are classified as endangered. These animals, along with others, need to be protected.

Last band you saw live?

Michael Jackson tribute at Hartlepool Beer Festival.

Your perfect night in?

An action DVD and a few real ales.

In another life I would be...

An extreme sports enthusiast or a stuntman. I love the daring nature of these guys and wish I had the dexterity and guts to do what they do.

Who would play you in a film of life?

Kevin Spacey