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.