Mark Knapper

For Mark Knapper, memories of Lancaster University are almost all centred around exploring new cultures and football - two strands that remain the focus of his life to this day.

As the MD of Astralis Recruitment Group Ltd., Mark's work as an executive headhunter is all about building relationships with companies and individuals in order to match the right people to the right jobs.  Outside that, he lives and breathes football as a member of the England fan club and a supporter of Hereford United.

"It had a big impact on me coming to Lancaster, and many of the skills I acquired there have remained very useful in my life to this day," says Mark. "As much as anything it was the different world I discovered up North. Most people there were all from the north and I quickly realised that, as they were not going to change, I would have to adapt."

He distinctly remembers himself - a lad from Ross-on-Wye, who had never been 'up North' - arriving at the University in October 1978, with his father and seeing the lake glittering in the sunshine and instantly falling in love with university life.

The first time he ate a meat and potato pie in the County JCR sticks in his memory.  He'd gone in for a drink and was offered the northern speciality but had no idea what it was.

This appreciation of his new home was completely endorsed when he realised not only that the list of subject possibilities on his History course extended all over the globe but also that he had lots of First Division football clubs within striking distance, as well as a new world of bars and discos.

His choice of Lancaster had been arbitrary.  He only made his decision to go to university on a gap year working in the bar of a German castle.  He liked history and his trendy history teacher at Ross-on-Wye Grammar School had been in the first intake there in 1964, so he decided to take his lead.

The freedom to study astonished him. He managed to combine his interest in Victorian England and religious history in his dissertation on the Oxford Movement. He worked hard and - since he loathed studying in the evenings - developed an efficient method of organising and getting through his work on a 'nine to five' basis that stands him in good stead even now. He was a member of the University's Victorian Society and the Federation of Conservative Students.

Outside university Mark had a rich life - he had a holiday job at the Hornsea Pottery factory in Lancaster, which paid well and brought him into contact with the local lads who ribbed him as a southerner who drank cider, and forced him to stand up for himself.  He also travelled to watch his beloved Hereford play against clubs like Bury, Halifax, Rochdale and Wigan, where he was excited to find a way of life (and a few head-on encounters with locals) he had no idea existed, coming from rural Herefordshire.

The traffic was two-way as friends from university visited his home and discovered  Herefordshire with its quaint riverside pubs and cider - something that Knapper considered distinctly unexciting!.
In his second year living in Morecambe, he acquired a new circle of friends outside the occasionally parochial constraints of his college, by mixing with a group he met in the local pubs. This group - known as the IBMs (Instant Best Mates) - and their families still meet every year at Butlins for a weekend's get together.

When he left Lancaster University, he went as a graduate trainee to the exclusive department store, Harrods. Two years later, moved into recruitment with Manpower and realised immediately that he had found his niche.

The training he received there was excellent and in the next few years he worked with several recruitment and headhunting companies until setting up his own company in 1999, with a business partner, specialising in executive recruitment in human resources. It is a job Knapper says he loves for its variety, the need to get to gain people's trust quickly and to understand their needs.

Mark's passion for football continues. Now based in St Albans, he still goes to as many Hereford United fixtures as he can and is also heavily involved with the 15,000 strong England fan club where, as well as going to the matches, he has helped organise cultural events for the fans visiting the different countries as a means of building good relationships and improving the image of the supporters themselves.

Among the memorable events with which he has helped are helping to organise a tournament in Israel involving Arab and Jewish players and playing football with locals in the Soweto township in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup.

He maintains his links with Lancaster University, as his company, Astralis, has a partnership with Robertson Cooper, a company set up by the university's Professor Cary Cooper to promote the psychological well-being of members of the workforce.