Thursday, 24 December 2009

Noel's Christmas Presents

Here are the wonderful Olive and Margaret in their line dance capes and hats. Anyone who has ever spent a Saturday night in the Newcastle Bigg Market has heard of or met them because for the last 36 years they have been there most weekends collecting a total of over £1 million for Children North East. They have over 1,000 members on their Facebook page (The Ladies in The Bigg Market Appreciation Group) but since Sunday they will be known to millions having featured in 'Noel's Christmas Presents' on Sky TV - if you missed it don't worry, it's on another 10 times over the Christmas season.

Sky TV contacted Children North East back in September wanting to know more about Olive and Margaret. Then in November Noel Edmonds surprised them in the Bigg Market before whisking them off to a party Children North East organised for them. From there Noel took them to Nashville for 10 days where there were more surprises including meeting Dolly Parton and being fitted out with cowgirl suits.

The final filming took place a couple of weekends ago before an invited audience when there was also a surprise for Children North East - the gift of computer equipment for the WEYES project. So a great big THANKYOU to Olive and Margaret, Noel Edmonds and the people at Sky TV. Read more about Olive, Margaret and their trip of a lifetime on the Shields Gazette website.

Merry Christmas everyone, I am having a break next week so the next blog will be on 7th January 2010. In the meantime have a great New Year!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The spirit of Christmas

Last Friday I went along to Eldon Square Shopping Centre to hear The Church High School for Girls Year 6 sing Christmas carols to help raise money for Children North East. The girls sang beautifully, their sound filling the large square in the centre of the mall.

Several volunteers dotted round the square held collection buckets for passers-by to make cash donations. We actually collected quite a lot of cash during the hour which will go to support all our work with vulnerable children, young people and parents, not just WEYES. But it was the human interactions which struck me. Some people did not see the collectors; some noticed but then ignored them, passing by either boldly or guiltily.

Many did give and in many different ways - with a smile or question about the singers or the charity, others avoiding eye contact or words. Some gave as an afterthought, almost walking by then turning back to the bucket at the last moment. There were lots of small children out with mothers or grandparents who enjoyed posting coins into the bucket watching them disappear one at a time, and sometimes asking for more.

Every one received a smile, a 'Thank you' and 'Merry Christmas' and each one went away smiling. The collectors too seemed to enjoy not just collecting money for a good cause, but all those small interactions - a smile, a few words, the delight of a small child or contented grandparents. None of that would have happened had the Church High girls not been there, and they would not have been there had it not been for Children North East.

We think that charities exist just to benefit those in need and of course that is their purpose; but giving and receiving also contribute in numerous tiny ways to the happiness of the community.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Loads of good news

It has been quite a week! The feature article about Denise Welch visiting WEYES appeared in the Sunday Sun last weekend together with several photographs of her with the young people she met there. Lots of people read it and have said things like 'I read about Children North East in the paper' which is just what we want.

We heard our application to Comic Relief for a revenue grant to continue the mental health work with young people as part of the WEYES project has been successful - £120,000 over 3 years. This is a wonderful boost that shows the confidence that funders have in the WEYES project and the real benefits it has for young people.

Our two fundraisers nurture relationships with businesses all through the year, Christmas is the time when those relationships bear fruit with gifts for disadvantaged children and some extremely generous donations. For example The Listening Company north east call centre have raised £6,800 for WEYES from a cycling challenge and Northumbria Water have given £6,500 towards the WEYES campaign plus the offer of support in kind. And Sky TV have given us IT equipment for WEYES too.

There are 140 Greggs bakery shops in the North East who have each donated Christmas presents for disadvantaged children and young people. A large Greggs lorry full of gifts delivered them to us this week and we will be distributing them in the run up to Christmas. Eldon Square Shopping Centre in Newcastle is supporting our Christmas appeal too, our fundraisers have arranged for local schools to sing carols around the Christmas tree there and volunteers to shake collecting tins. Volunteers also help to collect money in the Metrocentre and local supermarkets.

It's a very busy time of year but lots to be pleased and very grateful for too.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The journey here

This is the WEYES building where the project started 11 years ago. Young people who use the project have always said they like it because it is in an ideal spot, easy to get to by bus without drawing attention to itself; and is just a comfortable sort of building.

Two years ago the building came up for sale and Children North East bought it for £220,000 with a view to renovating it. We saw it as an investment in the young people of the west end of Newcastle. At the time of purchase there was a rough estimate that it would cost £100,000 to renovate the building.

However that estimate did not include meeting accessibility requirements to the first floor. So our good friends at _space architecture and management produced plans including a lift to make the first floor accessible, but these were rejected by Newcastle City Council Planning Department.

Next, in consultation with young people and the WEYES staff _space redesigned the plans with a large ground floor rear extension to provide a similar amount of accessible ground floor accommodation as would have been available over two floors. This plan was eventually approved by the Planning Department in August this year.

Since then  _space have costed the approved plans conservatively at £330,150. Add to that VAT, site insurance; Contract Design Manager (on site Health & Safety) and indemnity etc. adds up to the total of approximately £400,000.

Children North East still has the £100,000 set aside for renovation. We think we can raise another £100,000 from business sponsorship, gifts of goods and services and community fundraising. That leaves £200,000 which we hope to be able to raise from Charitable Trusts. Just now we are looking for someone to help us to do that.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Tim and Denise

Tim Healy and his wife Denise Welch are Celebrity Patrons for Children North East and are especially interested in the WEYES campaign.

Tim grew up in Benwell not far from WEYES. He says he would not be where he is today were it not for the love, care and support of his parents. He can see how important a place like WEYES is for young people who do not have supportive families. Denise is passionate about helping young people. She says it is easy for people to want to give money to help young, sick or disabled children but young people also need our help too.

Last week Denise visited WEYES and some other Children North East projects. Like Tim before her she was moved by the stories of the people she met there and wants to do anything she can to help. Not just for publicity but directly for some of the young people themselves.

So look out for a big article in the local press soon about Tim and Denise's support for WEYES. We would like to have a banner on the building with a picture of them both saying something like 'We support WEYES, why don't you'. Then there is the possibility of an 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet' reunion on the building site at the WEYES - what a photo shoot that would be! And much more to come.

While we are on the subject of celebrities - a little bird told me Dolly Parton supports Children North East too! International fame indeed!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Off!

The Children North East Board of Trustees met last night and agreed to go ahead with the renovation of the WEYES building because they thought it was the right thing to do for the WEYES project and the young people who use it.

They also agreed a fundraising plan. We estimate the total cost will be £400,000 (including VAT, insurance etc.). Children North East can just afford a quarter of the total. We think we can raise about another quarter through sponsorship by businesses that support us and fundraising events. But we will look for the other half of the money from charitable trusts and foundations. That is rather a specialised skill and not one we have in Children North East so the Board have given permission for us to employ a specialist trust fundraiser specifically for the WEYES campaign. It will not be a permanent job and apparently people who are good at trust fundraising are not easy to find, so the search starts now.

There are lots of things to get right - the building work, finance, publicity, promotion and all the different sorts of fundraising etc. All are dependent on each other and so need to be organised. The Board have given me the job of coordinating a group of the key people who need to involved. I am looking forward to it!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Almost off at last

Things take much longer than one imagines. When I started this blog back in August I thought work on the building might have begun by November. However there has been a lot of activity this week. Rob Charlton who is CEO of _space group has taken personal charge of the WEYES project. Rob and his wife have been terrific supporters of Children North East for some years. The _space group have supported us all through the design and planning application process for the WEYES building project (you can read Rob's blog here: On Monday Rob met some of our Trustees to propose a cost effective way of managing the building project and suggest some ways in which Rob could support our fundraising.

Yesterday the Finance Sub-Committee met to consider Rob's proposals alongside our fundraising plans and agreed to recommend financially supporting the project and also suggested investing some additional capacity in our fundraising team to give us the best chance of raising the money we need to complete the renovation. The whole board of trustees meets next Wednesday (18th) when the decision will be taken to commit Children North East to the renovation of the WEYES building. So just one more week and all being well we will have a 'green light' to go ahead.

Rob says work could start in January and should be finished in time for the summer holidays. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

BBC Free Thinking Festival

The BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival took place at the Sage, Gatehead recently, the theme of the weekend was the Family in the 21st Century. Children North East's own Head of Fatherwork Roger Olley was a panelist in a discussion on the question: 'Is there a future for men?' which will be broadcast on the BBC Radio 3 Nightwaves programme on 3rd December 2009.

The opening lecture was given by Professor Tanya Byron, you can listen to it as a podcast here: She spoke passionately about the urgent need to address discrimination against our children and young people asking, how is it that the UK has come to fear and distrust its own children and young people?

This month sees the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UK adopted the Convention (which is legally binding on member states) in April 1990. Every few years the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child examines how the Convention is being implemented in each country. In its last report  the Committee admonished the UK and asked us to take 'urgent measures to address the intolerance and inappropriate characterization of children, especially adolescents, within the society, including in the media.'

Tanya Byron pointed out that we have come to condemn our young people and that if you are told you are no good that is what you become. She urged us instead to try to understand our children and young people because that is what good parents (and good societies) do.

The Children North East WEYES project does just that. It is a place for young people who have no where else to turn. There they will find people who will always find time to listen, will try to understand and if asked will give good advice. In a society as intolerant of young people as our is, it is vital that WEYES exists; but it is an endictment of our intolerance that it is a necessary project.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Junior Citizens

Notice seen outside a teashop - 'Welcome to all our Senior and Junior Citizens'.

My teenage daughters were struck by the words on this sign; 'Junior Citizens' sounds so much more respectful than the usual 'Young People', especially when coupled with 'Senior Citizen'. My daughters think 'Young People' is  patronising and has connotations of anti-social behaviour. It was never meant that way, the term 'Young People' came into being to recognise that teenagers are different to children. However my daughter's day to day experience is that young people are generally not trusted - imagine the outcry if newsagents put up signs saying 'only two pensioners at a time'.

The fact is that a minority of the whole population are badly behaved - adults, women, men young adults, older people as well as teenagers, but the overwhelming majority of all ages are decent citizens. Actually it is the teenagers who are giving most back to civil society - over half of all teenagers do some sort of voluntary work every month, a far higher percentage than any other age group.

'Citizen' means 'a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection'. The definition says nothing about age. In fact anyone under the age of majority (18 in the UK) deserves greater protection because they do not have the resources and rights (as well as the responsbilities) that adults do. Our children, teenagers and young people are just as much members of the UK as adults, we could remind ourselves of that by calling them 'Junior Citizen's'.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Pleased to see you again

The other morning I passed a young woman as I was rushing into the Metro Station, she said 'I haven't seen you in a long time!' I stopped and must have looked confused because she added 'You don't recognise me do you?' Actually I did but could not place her and said so. She was Laura and I last saw her over 10 years ago when she was 18.

At that time I was working for Social Services, Laura she was one of the young people in our care and my job was to chair the regular reviews Social Services are required to have of children they take care of. Laura's father had disappeared long before, then her mother died and Laura had gone to live with an uncle supported by Social Services. Laura was 14 when I first met her and testing her uncle severely. Within a year he had lost all control of her, she had lost all respect for him and was doing exactly as she pleased. All the professionals who knew her were very worried by the risks she was taking with drugs and the older men she was spending most of her time with. Things came to a crisis landing Laura in a Secure Unit for three months for her own protection. Laura hated us all for 'locking her up' but surprisingly it was the best thing that happened to her because she used the time to catch up on school work and to decide she wanted a fresh start.

I liked Laura, she was a bright girl who had been dealt a very unlucky hand. We found her a room in the house of a supportive family on the other side of the Borough and helped her get a place in college. Things settled down pretty well for her until she fell pregnant. A great many 'professionals' expressed deep concern that Laura would be a poor mother, however she had not been a mother before so we gave her the chance to prove everyone wrong. We helped Laura find a flat for herself and the baby, fitted it out for her and gave her as much encouragement and professional advice as possible. Laura proved to be a devoted and able mother but the cost was loneliness - she had no family to talk too and after the initial attraction wore off her friends left her alone too.

Laura's flat was close to my office and she often came in on the pretext of asking for money. I would see her each time and have a chat, which I suspect was the real reason for her calling in. Then I got another job in a new place and lost contact with Laura. So it was great to see her at the Metro Station, her little boy is 10 now and doing well. As a teenager Laura had been a handful and caused a lot of headaches; had WEYES been nearby it would have been the ideal place for her. Nevertheless I did what I could and it felt really good was to be introduced by her to her friend as 'This is Jeremy, he's a good bloke'.

Thank you Laura, you make it all worthwhile for all of us working with young people.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Music for WEYES

To my knowldege Children North East has never had a fund raising concert before last Saturday. The 50 member strong South Tyneside Orchestra gave a terrific concert  in Trinity Church Centre, Gosforth in aid of Children North East. They played a very varied programme of music from Handel and Rossini to Abba via James Bond and the Pink Panther!  The orchestra grew from the South Tyneside School Music Service and is made up of young people and music teachers. Several young people played and sang solos including a virtuoso xylophone performance. Both the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Newcastle and the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside came along.

The concert was the idea of Ernest Young, conductor of the South Tyneside Orchestra so that talented young people could give back a little to young people who are less fortunate. Young people who use the WEYES drop-in advice centre face all the same dilemmas and the same prejudices that so many adults have about young people as  their contemporaries, but have no one to turn to for help, that is what WEYES is for.

It is fitting that the money raised by the young musicians will directly benefit other young people in the region and I am very grateful to them for it and for a great evening of wonderful music.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

15 minutes of fame?

One of the young women who uses the WEYES project was interviewed this week by local radio. They wanted to talk to a young person about bullying -  what she knew about it, what she thought about it, what she thought should be done about it. She was happy to be interviewed provided a staff member from the WEYES project sat in on the recording which took place at the WEYES project this week. The young woman was very articulate and the radio people were pleased with the interview which will be broadcast next week.

A couple of weeks ago Children North East was approached by a TV researcher seeking 'heartwarming stories' of ordinary people who are making a success of their lives despite the recession. He hoped we could put him in touch with suitable people. We decided to be helpful and a meeting took place with the researcher, director and assistant director but it became apparent that the people appearing would have no control over what was broadcast; and we were worried about the impact on the people concerned of appearing on TV. We did agree to ask a one person if they would like to take part but they declined.

Neither of these was about promoting Children North East or WEYES, in both cases the 'media' wanted to learn from ordinary people. An admirable enough purpose but what the media don't do is explain what the consequences might be: how you might end up presented in a way you would not be happy with; how being recognised in the street might cause you problems. Many of the people who use our services are vulnerable in some way (that is what the services are for) and Children North East feels a responsibility to protect our service users from exploitation. Of course it is their decision whether to speak to radio, TV or newspaper reporters but they should only go into it knowing what the consequences could be for themselves.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Spittal House FC

This is Spittal House FC in their new kit complete with Children North East logo. One of the things that happens in a project like WEYES is that people get together and other unintended things begin to happen. Most of the lads in Spittal House FC met through the WEYES project and found they not only enjoyed a kick about but also spending time with other blokes. Most of them have partners and some have children, they tell you 'it's not just the game, it's also the crack, having a laugh and a moan away from the women and kids.' There's a serious side too, talking about what it's like to be a Dad. What started as a kick around became a regular fixture and when they started competing in the Sunday League it was time to get some proper kit but that cost more than they could afford. The staff at WEYES were able to help them find trusts that might give them a grant and mentor them through the process of making an application. The lads were so pleased when the Youth Opportunities Fund gave them what they needed they decided to put our logo on the shirts as a thank you.

Incidentally one of other things Children North East does is promote the importance of men as much as women in children's lives, these young men have found a way to do that for themselves through Spittal House FC.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Great North Run

Huge Well Done and Big Thanks to the 30 people who took part in the Great North Run last Sunday and raised money for Children North East. The run goes past the end of the street where I live, as in previous years watching and cheering the river of 55,000 people as they go past is incredibly inspiring and I am full of admiration for anyone who can run that far (I am sure my knees would give out!). Behind the finishing line was the 'charity village' to receive and thank the runners. Children North East had only a small area but what we lacked in space we made up for in the friendly welcome everyone got, steaming cups of tea, chocolates (gifts from Thorntons) and fruit (donated by J R Holland).

The following day we had a really helpful and encouraging meeting with advisers from the Tyne and Wear Community Foundation about charitable trusts to approach for a capital grant towards the WEYES renovation. Next step is to submit applications but don't expect to hear anything until March.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Christmas is coming

Meeting of our PR and Fundraising Committee yesterday evening, not well attended but a good opportunity to look at all we are doing and planning to do. In particular getting the name of Children North East known by the general public in the region.

Our Christmas 'Giving Tree' campaign is coming up. The fundraising team have worked hard to give the campaign (and Children North East) a higher profile this year. Real Radio will be supporting the campaign which is great because that will mean regular mentions across the North East on a popular radio station. And Eldon Sqaure shopping centre have also agreed to support us - their 'Wishing Well' appeal by the Christmas Display will be in aid of Children North East and there will be a drop-off point for people who want to leave gifts for children. Greggs the bakers have kindly agreed to support the Giving Tree too by offering each of their 140 shops as collection points for presents and other gifts. We are hopeful some of the schools we know will sing a few carols for us in Eldon Square too.

Christmas is an especially hard time for families who don't have much spare cash. Everyone wants to give their children a good Christmas; if you don't you and your children feel very left out - a real slap in the face that you don't count. The gifts of presents are wonderful but in recent years we have found more and more parents asking us for help with food at Christmas time too.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Never heard of you

The biggest problem Children North East has is that the general public have never heard of us.

For most of the last century we were called 'The Poor Children's Homes Association' and everyone had heard of us. From 1932 we had a prominent Headquarters building in the middle of Newcastle with PCHA in huge letters on it - you could not miss it. Even today the older generation still remember the PCHA, some tell you about dropping off unwanted toys for the 'poor children' at it's door. But in the early 1970's that building was demolished to make way for the Eldon Square shopping precinct and in 1987 the name changed to 'Children North East'. Since then, apart from the centenary celebrations in 1991 and the odd splash since, not much attention has been paid to promoting the charity.

So before we can start raising money, first we have to make sure the general public have heard of us. Hardly a week goes by when we don't send a press release or a letter to the local papers but they are not all printed and often when they are it is in obscure parts of the paper. What we need are a well-written features about what the charity does, some of the problems facing the people we help and how we help them, particularly young people. Maybe some pieces about particular members of staff or volunteers as well. And not just the newspapers but in other ways too so people will have at least heard of us.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Eating an elephant

Our fundraising team say it is 'do-able' to raise £350,000, you break it down into managable chunks - maybe one large donation of perhaps £50k, three or four of £30k each, a few more of £20k and so on. They say success will breed success so the key is to get a couple of big amounts first then you can ask others to follow the trend. The hard work is researching who to ask - trust funds, companies, wealthy individuals and to have several options for each 'ask'. This will take time.

The Board met for their quarterly meeting on Wednesday, there was a lot on the agenda but this was an important item. Naturally they are worried about the financial commitment - will it be worth investing such a lot of money in one building? Actually it's an investment in the young people of west Newcastle. We know they have valued and used the service for the last 10 years during which time the building has become very tatty, a renovated building will say to young people 'You are important.' Having bought the building and needing it to run the service, it's hard to see an alternative to renovating it now.

The Board agreed to our proposal to set up an Appeals Team which will include one of them. They also recognise they each one of them has an obligation to get people they know interested in this appeal and in our other work too. The fundraising team are excited to have a project to work on with a fundraising target.

So how do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

A mountain to climb

Exciting meeting with our good friends at _space yesterday afternoon. The _space Architecture and Management organisation have kindly given us their services to manage the renovation of our West End Youth Enquiry Service (WEYES) building. At last we have verbal planning permission so now _space can start drawing up tender lists and invite interest from construction firms. We won't know an exact price until those bids come back at the end of September but _space estimate it will cost about £350,000 if one firm were to do everything to the best standard and take about 16 weeks work.

The price is a bit of a shock, we have £100,000 for the project so far. The discussion moves on to how to manage the cost. Companies may be willing to sponsor a room or undertake a piece of the work like all the floor coverings or the heating system. We have already had generous offers from other companies of a day's work. We could stipulate materials are purchased from local suppliers in return for a discount. And it may be possible to obtain some grants too such as the Carbon Trust for things that will make the completed building more environmentally friendly. Of course we will acknowledge the support of everyone who helps.

We are very fortunate that actors Tim Healy and Denise Welch have agreed to be celebrity patrons of Children North East and in particular want to support the campaign to raise money for the WEYES renovation. We are hopeful that other people and groups will help us too. At present the WEYES project is in temporary accommodation which is not ideal, the sooner they are back in their former, but newly renovated building the better. So the task is clear - to raise £250,000 in as short a time as possible.