Michelle McPhee

Strategic Town Centre Manager, Middlesbrough

Sector: Local Authority

After being told that “a local authority wasn’t really a place for a young girl” Michelle McPhee was determined to pursue a career in local government and progress up the career ladder within the council.

Where do you call home?

Middlesbrough. I was born here and lived in the town all my life until more recently when I moved to Yarm with my partner and two children. 

Tell us about your role? 

I am strategic town centre manager for Middlesbrough Council. I lead on the strategic development and operational management of the town centre, coordinating the council’s resources and ensuring a dynamic approach that supports stakeholders, investors, and entrepreneurs. 

How did you get to where you are today?

I left school at 16 and started a business administration apprenticeship at Middlesbrough Council. 21 years later, and I am still here.

At the start of my apprenticeship, I was lucky enough to land a placement in the regeneration team and I instantly loved it. Since those early days, I’ve progressed up the career ladder within the council and in 2017 I was appointed strategic town centre manager. 

The town centre has always played a massive part in my life, from those early memories of shopping trips with my nanna to Uptons and C&A and memorable nights out with friends at Bar Fresco, The Cornerhouse and Tuxedo Royale. These memories and connections I have mean my current role is much more than just a job. 

The COVID pandemic has resulted in challenging times for town centres. But I believe Middlesbrough has the ambition and vision to create an exciting and prosperous future for itself, and I’m passionate about making the town centre thrive again.

What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way?

I’ve definitely come across some challenges throughout my career. For example, in the early stages of my apprenticeship someone in a senior position told me that a local authority wasn’t really a place for a ‘young girl’ and suggested I pursued a career as a hairdresser instead. While it feels like a lifetime away, this only happened in 2000! I was shocked and couldn’t believe someone in their position had that opinion. However, this only made me more determined to pursue a career in local government. Once, someone else even suggested I try to change my Middlesbrough accent if I wanted to achieve my ambitions and progress my career.

I’m proud of who I am. Being a woman born and bred in Middlesbrough has made me resilient and given me a level of determination to pursue my goals and tell the difference between constructive and unhelpful feedback. 

Describe the moment you first got a feel for success?

Success can be defined and measured in so many ways, and what one person thinks of as success, another may not. I think the most important thing anyone can do is think about what it means to them.

For me, it came when I realised, I had a job that I was genuinely passionate about and felt like I was making a difference and, as a result being a positive role model for both my daughters. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring young females?

Believe in yourself and trust your intuition and gut feeling. Also, believe in the positive changes you want to make and trust your own talents. 

Don’t be afraid to question or challenge things. Just because something hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean to say it can’t be. And just because something has been a certain way forever doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You can achieve great things if you are fuelled by passion and work hard to achieve your goals.

What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path? 

Not necessarily three words, but in the last 10 years my eldest daughter Isla has been my biggest motivation and reason why. When things have been difficult, I remind myself that I’m doing this so Isla can look at me and know that being a woman shouldn’t make any difference to what you want to achieve in your life. You can follow your dreams and be exactly what you want to be. My youngest daughter is almost two, and as she grows and understands more, I’ll continue to inspire her to believe in this too.

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