Our Speakers

Supported by Recognition PR

Business Unmuted Live! with Graham Robb

Business Unmuted Live! with Graham Robb

Headline sponsor Graham Robb (Recognition PR) leads this Business Unmuted Live! panel, discussing the way green investment is changing the North East.

A well-known and established business figure in the North-East, Graham is a board member of the South Tees Development Corporation, served as North East Chairman of the Institute of Directors and was appointed In July 2019 as an IoD Council member. He has run respected communications firm, Recognition PR, for more than 30 years and represents clients throughout the UK across a range of business sectors.

Richard Harpin, HomeServe

Richard Harpin, HomeServe

Today he’s the CEO and founder of one of Britain’s best business success stories – HomeServe Plc – but Richard Harpin has always had a passion for business and creating opportunity.

From breeding and selling rabbits at age 6, performing magic tricks at children’s parties at age 11, and launching a fishing fly-tie business until leaving university, enterprise has always been close to Richard’s heart.

In the early 90s, having started his career in marketing at Procter and Gamble, he left the corporate environment and set up a consultancy partnership with fellow ex-P&G Brand Manager Jeremy Middleton.

Running a property letting and management business, the duo realised how difficult it was to find good tradesmen when tenants experienced an emergency and so HomeServe was born.

From losing £500,000 in its first year and near closure, today HomeServe is a global business with over 8.5 million customers, sales of over £1.2 billion and a market capitalisation approaching £4 billion.

Inspired to help others in their entrepreneurial journeys, he launched The Enterprise Trust - a charity which was funded entirely by Richard’s annual salary and bonuses – and Growth Partner, an investment firm which supports some of Britain’s most talented entrepreneurs. To date, Growth Partner has backed 7 promising businesses.

Supported by North East Local Enterprise Partnership

Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes, As Seen from the Sidecar

Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes, As Seen from the Sidecar

Back in 2015, friends Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes were sitting in their dingy flat in North London, complaining about the state of the world and wondering how they could make a difference.

The answer was obvious: buy a Honda SH300 scooter, attach a sidecar to it and ride it 34,000 miles around the world, raising awareness for charities combating modern slavery along the way.

Setting off in October 2017, with no prior experience of riding a motorbike and zero mechanical expertise, the pair travelled across 35 countries, heavily relying on the kindness of strangers throughout their journey.

After 455 days on the road, where they battled daily with the elements, Matt and Reece returned home – having raised over £7k for charity and breaking the Guinness World Record for the longest journey by scooter and sidecar. Wanting to share that the world is a good place full of great people, the pair wrote a book about their journey (Our Ridiculous World Trip) which hit the shelves earlier this year. During the COVID lockdowns of 2020, and inspired to share entertaining and heartwarming stories, they created the Armchair Adventure Festival, which welcomed 40,000 guests and raised over £12,500 for charity in its first year.

Supported by City Fibre

Kresse Wesling CBE, Elvis & Kresse

Kresse Wesling CBE, Elvis & Kresse

In 2005, after learning that London’s damaged decommissioned hoses ended up in landfill, Kresse and partner Elvis embarked on a mission to save them.

Taking waste raw materials from the London Fire Brigade, Kresse and Elvis began a lengthy process of trial and error, turning the discarded hoses into roof tiles, furniture and Christmas ornaments until finally developing a belt made entirely out of rescued leather.

Bags and purses soon followed, as did charitable partnerships, celebrity endorsements and collaborations with artists and designers.

While fire-hose is Elvis & Kresse’s signature material, the company now collects 12 different waste streams including leather off-cuts from the production of Burberry leather goods, decommissioned printing blankets from the off-set printing industry and military grade parachute silk.

Living and breathing the values of ‘rescue, transform and donate’, the company gives 50% of its profits to the Fire Fighters Charity and has secured B Corp, Social Enterprise and Living Wage Employer accreditation.

For her vision, courage and passion to drive positive change in the world, Kresse was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2012 and awarded a CBE for her contribution to sustainable business in 2021.

Supported by the City of Sunderland

Richard McCann, No.1 Sunday Times Best Seller

Richard McCann, No.1 Sunday Times Best Seller

In 2004, inspired to share the unique story of his youth, Richard McCann penned his autobiography ‘Just a Boy: The True Story of a Stolen Childhood’.

It shot to the top of the bestseller charts, knocking Robbie Williams off the Sunday Times No. 1 spot. Selling half a million copies to date, the book has been translated around the world, while his extraordinary life story has been the subject of two BBC documentaries and is currently featured on Netflix. 

Following the tremendous success of his first novel, Richard published three more books: ‘The Boys Grows Up’ in 2006 ‘iCan: two words that will change everything’ in 2012, and finally, ‘Just A Man’ in 2018,

A motivational speaker for over 16 years, Richard has shared his story with audiences across the globe, who have applauded his “emotive” “honest” and “compelling” talk and for being a “true inspiration”. 


Charlie Charlton (Host)

Charlie Charlton (Host)

Naturally curious, incredibly passionate, warm and witty, Charlie has been the host of our autumn conference since 2017 and has entertained audiences and been inspired by our speakers in equal measure.

A former BBC presenter for almost 20 years, Charlie is an award-winning journalist known for getting to grips with the issues that matter most. Her stories, which include interviews with Prime Minister’s and politicians, and in-depth conversations celebrating extraordinary lives, have been featured on Panorama, Newsnight and in national press, while her work on radio has made her one of the most recognised media personalities in the region. 

Now working freelance, you can often find Charlie centre stage at events around the country, whether it’s Q&As, live business conferences, virtual award shows or music concerts. Recently, she made history as the first woman in the UK to host a day-long business conference with her 4-month-old baby in a sling. Talk about inspirational!  

Raised in Gateshead, educated in London and a worldwide traveller, Charlie features in a bestselling book about the North East's "famous sons and daughters" and is a proud Patron of Changing Lives, a national charity supporting vulnerable people and families experiencing homelessness, addiction or abuse. 

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