From humble beginnings to employing 400 people, the Newlands Group’s motto is ‘Together We Are Stronger’ because its growth has been built on recruiting quality people. PETER BARRON reports

A SPARSE room above a sweet shop, with two desks, and a home printer…Phil Crowther and Lisa Spark can’t help smiling at each other as they recall how it all started.

“The problem with running a business is you don’t get time to appreciate how far you’ve come,” says Phil, Newlands Group founder and chairman.

Fresh from the financial crash of 2008, Phil and business partner Lisa had walked the streets of Darlington, looking for somewhere to launch their business dreams.

“The room above the sweet shop was all we could find,” he recalls. “Believe me, no one else would have wanted to rent it, but we were there for a year.”

Today, Newlands Group has its headquarters in modern offices on Morton Palms Business Park, in Darlington, and is parent company to five businesses, employing around 400 people, with ambitions to add 100 more jobs this year.

And Phil, pictured below, is unequivocal about the key to the group’s success over the past 16 years: “It’s the people,” he declares. “We’ve concentrated on building a high-quality management team who share our social values – and they’ve geared us up for strategic growth.”

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The portfolio is as diverse as it’s strong, with the five businesses – Care Matters, Tribe Recruitment, Tribe Search, The Robin Centre, and Turn Left – operating in a range of sectors, including health care, education, employment, logistics, transport, and commercial property.

“Our success has come through creating it from nothing,” adds Lisa. “We didn’t inherit anything – none of it was a gift.”

Phil and Lisa began working together when he was involved in the 2003 launch of 5C Solutions, providing manpower for Dubai’s booming construction sector.

In 2006, Phil launched a top-end executive search company, called Shuar – focusing on the real estate sector in the Middle East and working mainly with the Qatar government – and appointed Lisa as general manager.

Within two years, the world was facing financial turmoil, and the Middle East real estate sector collapsed. Shuar and 5C Solutions had to be wound up, and Phil and Lisa found themselves back in Darlington, starting from scratch above the sweet shop.

“It’s been a lot of hard work to get where we are now but I believe in what we’re doing more than ever – because I believe in the team we have in place,” says Phil.


Care Matters

Care Matters became part of the Newlands Group in October 2013, and employs more than 200 people, providing domiciliary care, as well as complex care packages to support the NHS.

It’s a crucial period for Care Matters as it submits tenders to provide domiciliary and extra care services for Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council; domiciliary care services for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council; and domiciliary care services for Darlington Borough Council.

Care Matters has been established as a trusted service provider for Stockton Borough Council since 2018 and is now reapplying for that contract. Meanwhile, success with the tenders in Redcar and Darlington would represent a geographical expansion, and create around 100 more jobs.

The business has offices in Darlington, Stockton, and Meadowfield House, in Thornaby, and is currently registering a new office in Middlesbrough with the Care Quality Commission after starting domiciliary care services for the borough council and NHS.

The company is also looking at sponsoring a social care immigration scheme so it can bring carers from overseas to plug recruitment gaps and enhance the service.

“We still passionately believe in local jobs for local people but there’s a clear shortfall in what we can source from the local area,” says Phil.

“We’ve got a first-class management team in place across domiciliary, extra care, and complex care, and Care Matters is ready to move from being a small business to a medium-sized business over the next few years.”

Tribe Recruitment

Established in 2009, Tribe Recruitment has built a strong track record for connecting jobseekers with employers in a diverse range of sectors.

The company is particularly strong in health care, and the business has recently expanded into children’s services within the health care division.

Transport and logistics are another focus for expansion, with Tribe Recruitment extending its reach from its North-East heartland into Liverpool, Manchester, and Immingham.

“The economic challenges facing the country are forcing us to push the boundaries, and the key to the success of this part of the group is flexibility,” says Phil.

Tribe Search

Tribe Search finds mid and senior-level talent for UK businesses and is again driven by specialist sector expertise.

Clients range from SMEs to national organisations, and the company remains especially active in the Middle East, where it recently signed a new contract to provide executive search services to the Qatari Government, which has plans to build a new city near its capital, Doha.

The Robin Centre

The Robin Centre, based in Middlesbrough’s Tad Centre, is a day service where people with learning disabilities can feel comfortable, have fun learning, and develop social skills.

Close to Phil’s heart, The Robin Centre, is named after his dad, and the group is actively exploring new locations to replicate the model.

“We see the difference it makes to people’s lives every day as an important addition to the social support network, and we want that to grow,” says Phil.

Turn Left Ventures

Turn Left owns high specification offices on business parks, which are rented out to businesses on long-term lease, and is looking to acquire more buildings in the near future.


Senior Team

Phil Crowther, Founder and Chairman: Born in South Africa, Phil grew up in Darlington, and played semi-professional cricket before starting his working life in sales for a Libyan oil company. He has gone on to have more than 20 years of operational success in healthcare, recruitment, education and commercial property. His entrepreneurial instincts – combined with passionate social values – came to the fore when he launched Newlands Group.

Lisa Spark, Group Managing Director: Lisa, from Peterlee, started her career in human resources with the Safeway supermarket chain before becoming HR Manager for Furniture Express, looking after 50 UK branches. She’s been alongside Phil throughout the evolution of the Newlands Group, and key to its success.

Nicola Crowther, Group Operations Director: Nicola grew up in Eaglescliffe and began her career on the Marks and Spencer graduate training scheme, before becoming a national account manager with Holsten Pils. Married to Phil, she’s been part of Newlands Group from the start: focusing on sales, operations, customer experience and, more recently, project management. “Phil and I are perfectionists – we want customers to get the best possible service,” she says.

Julie Shippey, Group Finance, Procurement and Facilities Manager: Raised in Middlesbrough, Julie has a wealth of experience in manufacturing, engineering and the NHS, acquiring the skills to oversee the group’s finances. She joined Newlands Group in 2015 and says: “We’re a close-knit team who look after each other and share the same values.”

Helen Bartle, Operations Manager: From Gainford, Helen joined Newlands Group during the pandemic in 2021, having worked in recruitment, the civil service, and financial services. She’s heavily involved in planning the expansion of the business, and says: “It’s great to be part of a strong, cohesive team who support each other as well as the aims of the business.”

Antony Lewis, Group Marketing Manager: Originally from Birmingham, Antony spent 12 years in The Army, driving tanks and specialising in reconnaissance. After leaving the military, he played semi-professionally for Darlington Rugby Club, and developed an expertise in sales, marketing, web development, and training. He joined the Newlands Group in 2021 and says: “It’s great to be part of a really strong team at such an exciting time for the business.”

Care Matters

Steven Hutchinson, Regional Manager: Steven, who grew up in North Ormesby, trained as a chef before switching to a career in the care sector. Starting as a part-time community healthcare assistant, Steven rose through the ranks, and joined Care Matters in 2019. “It’s a company that genuinely cares – about clients and staff,” he says.

Michelle Broom, Registered Manager: Shildon-born Michelle moved into the care sector 22 years ago, having joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps at 18. Michelle has worked in a variety of care roles, with client groups that cover children, adults, learning difficulties, mental health, autism, complex needs, and clinical care. When she joined Care Matters last year, she described it as “the perfect fit”.

Tribe Recruitment

Stephen Belton, Business Manager: Stephen, originally from Yarm, spent 13 years specialising in the industrial, transport and logistics sectors – working with clients from multi-million pound businesses to SMEs – before joining the Newlands Group last year. “Tribe Recruitment is a business that’s aligned with my values of treating people in the right way,” he says.

Bethan Andrews, Principal Recruitment Consultant: From Gainford, Bethan joined the Newlands Group last year, having spent eight years specialising in logistics, supply chain, and transport. “It’s such a welcoming place to work, I feel like I’ve been here forever,” she says. “Everyone has the same vision and principles.”

The Robin Centre

Vicky Hubery, Day Service Manager: Vicky, a Billingham mum with decades of experience in health and social care, is dedicated to transforming vulnerable lives. “It’s not just a job – it’s my life,” she says.


The Northern Echo: Care Matters' Rachael James enjoying catching up with Kev Addison

AS well as providing first-class care services, Care Matters plays an important part in community life.

On the jobs front, the company is making an increasing contribution to the Stockton-on-Tees Employment/Training Hub, committing to two ‘Work Ready Wednesday’ sessions a month to make it easier to access careers in care.

Care Matters is also registered with the Tees Valley Combined Authority as an employer on the ‘Schools Shout Out’ portal, as well as supporting schools and colleges with careers events, and attending jobs fairs.

The company operates a non-discriminatory recruitment policy, ensuring vacancies are accessible to candidates with disabilities. Employees include people with epilepsy, autism, ADHD, and hearing difficulties.

As a strategic partner of Tees Active, Care Matters supports initiatives to improve health and wellbeing.

Staff are allocated two days’ volunteering per year, and the business has partnered with the Catalyst charity to maximise opportunities to work on community projects, such as the Norton Lunch Club, and Check-in-Call, which helps tackle isolation.

Care Matters works with Citizens Advice to improve access to welfare support for vulnerable people in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis.

The company also supports a range of local groups, including Darlington Rugby Club, Redcar Athletic (Disabled) Football team, Guisborough Squash Club, Thornaby Netball Club, and Eston Swimming Club.

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Most recently, it has sponsored an initiative at Darlington Hippodrome Theatre to tackle loneliness.

Managing Director Lisa Spark said: “Our aim is to be a force for good in the local community, and these are just some examples of how we try to make a difference.”