Carlisle Youth Zone is quiet early on a weekday afternoon. It’s later that the place comes alive with the shouts and laughter of its young customers.

Ruth Jeffcoate has only just started working there as fundraising officer and is full of praise for it. “I absolutely adore it,” she says with conviction. “It’s such an inspiring place.”

Its purpose is to provide seven to 21-year-olds with a place to socialise and try out new activities, and so improve their well-being. And in that way it has some similarities to Ruth’s earlier job.

For many years she worked on new treatments for depression and anxiety - essentially improving people’s moods - as a high-powered research scientist.

Ruth was born 54 years ago in Arlecdon near Whitehaven. It’s just over 36 miles from the Youth Zone and about an hour away by car. But she took the long way there.

Her journey went via London, Cambridge, the USA, Scotland and Denmark. She only discovered she had a flair for fundraising when she came back home.

And what’s clear when Ruth describes the route she took is that she’s never felt comfortable in what nowadays gets called a “comfort zone”.

She went to university in London when she’d barely ever been out of Cumbria, endured all the extremes of life in the USA and found herself responsible for funding a charity when she had no experience of the role whatsoever.

Her first passion, from a very early age, was science. “I’ve been fascinated by it since I was a young child,” she recalls.

Her A Levels at Whitehaven Grammar School were in physics, chemistry and biology, and she reckons she must have been one of the first people from her small village to go to university.

She wanted to use science to benefit other people, so took a foundation course in medicine and applied biology at the University of Greenwich, with the plan to study for a full medical degree in Cambridge afterwards.

However she soon changed tack. Her course in Greenwich involved a “sandwich year” working in science outside the university, and she spent hers at the government military science park in Porton Down, researching a vaccine against botulism, “the most deadly bacterium known to man,” she says. “And I got hooked on research.”

Instead of medicine she took a PhD in Cambridge in neuroendocrinology - which, in simple terms, is the study of how hormones affect the brain.

If London was a culture shock after west Cumbria, then another one soon followed. She continued her research at the University of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania.

During her time there she was promoted to assistant professor of medicine and intended to stay in the USA for good - though there were aspects of American life she struggled with.

“The chocolate over there was awful!” she recalls with displeasure. “My mother used to send me ‘Red Cross’ parcels with Twixes and Walnut Whips. I also had a pining for XL cheese crisps.

“One of the things I noticed was that the news was very American-oriented. My mum would also send me magazines from home and The Whitehaven News.”

Ruth met and married another expat there, a Scotsman, who disliked America. So she returned to Britain with him. “I’m afraid heart ruled head.”

She got a job in Scotland with pharmaceutical firm Organon, researching new drugs to treat anxiety and depression. And after three years she was headhunted by Danish drugs firm Lundbeck.

It was there that she underwent what she describes as “a massive life-changing experience”.

Her husband left, and Ruth explains: “I decided to come back to Cumbria to be with my family. And I took stock of what I really wanted to do in life. I was 42 at the time, so maybe it was a bit of a mid-life crisis.”

She adds: “When I was growing up Cumbria wasn’t a great place. There wasn’t much to do as a teenager, not in a tiny village like Arlecdon. But I fell in love with Cumbria again.”

She also fell in love with the Calvert Trust. The charity organises outdoor activities for people with disabilities and looking for something to keep her occupied, she signed up as a volunteer.

“It was the first time I had been involved with a charity and I thought what they did was fabulous.”

She was soon determined to work for the trust. So the research scientist with the PhD from Cambridge and years in postdoctoral research, who had worked on developing new drugs and published 55 articles in academic journals, took the first job that came up there - as a cleaner.

“After a month, the director said: ‘We are wasting your background. Would you be interested in becoming marketing and fundraising manager?’”

She accepted the position, but admits she didn’t have a clue where to start. The trust needs to raise £1 million a year - £750,000 through residential lettings and £250,000 through fundraising - and she admits: “It was a hugely steep learning curve!

“I was extremely worried. For the first six months in particular it was quite hairy.”

The bulk of the money has to come through applications to grant-making bodies and Ruth’s job was to write the applications, explaining why they deserved a grant, how the money would be spent and what benefits it would bring.

“You are up against all the disability charities in the UK. I was there for five years and I reached my target each year. I discovered I had a bit of a talent for fundraising.”

It was also at the Calvert Trust that she met her second husband Larry, a chef there. He is now retired and the couple live in Skelton.

In 2012 Ruth decided to use her newly-discovered flair for fundraising to help other good causes, and set up Cumbria Fundraising Consultancy. “I realised that Cumbria as a whole is badly represented by grant-making trusts.”

Why does she think that is? It’s partly ignorance among those in the south who believe that north-western England begins and ends with Liverpool and Manchester. “We are the second-largest county in the UK, and also the second most sparsely populated.”

She also reckons: “There is a misconception that we are rich, because of the Lake District.

“There are pockets of affluence. But there are also very deprived areas.”

One recent project was to obtain almost £500,000 in grants for redeveloping the Fratry at Carlisle Cathedral. She has also raised £250,000 for Cumbria Wheelchair Sports Club.

She’s now dividing her time between the consultancy and the role at the Youth Zone.

Her fundraising there is to cover the revenue expenditure - such as bills, staff salaries and other running costs - rather than capital expenditure, on bricks, mortar and equipment. “It’s the fundraising to keep the doors open.”

Ruth explains that there are five distinct strands to fundraising. One is event fundraising - charity balls and the like.

There is regular giving, where individuals make a donation every month, and legacy fundraising, through people’s wills.

Community fundraising includes the sponsorship that can come from local businesses.

And then there are the grant applications that Ruth specialises in, which bring in the lion’s share.

“Fundraising is professional begging,” she says. “You might need a brass neck but you have to do it.”

Does she ever miss the science world? Part of her motivation as a scientist was to help other people. Whether it’s researching a vaccine, developing new drugs or winning money for good causes it’s all still doing that.

She notes other similarities. “In science you have a hypothesis, you test it, you make sense of the results and you could prove your hypothesis.

“In fundraising you have an idea, you make a bid like writing a scientific paper, and you get a result.”

But there has to be an emotional ingredient too, that is mostly absent in the logical processes of science.

“You couldn’t work for a charity if you didn’t feel passionately about what they do and the difference they are trying to make.

“There are 32 youth workers on the coal face, and they are phenomenal people, I’m so impressed by them.

“Their enthusiasm and commitment and knowledge of the young people and what they need is amazing.”

She dismisses the idea that she could be doing something more high-powered. “You are never over-qualified for a job if you’ve never done it before.

“And after working on my own for five years it’s brilliant working as part of a team again. That’s one of the things I love about this job.”