Thursday, 30 December 2010


First a huge THANK YOU to all the people who gave Christmas gifts for children during our annual 'Giving Tree' appeal, and to the businesses who helped to advertise, support and to collect gifts. Last year over 6,000 gifts were donated and this year looks to have exceeded that record. This really makes an enormous difference to children and families in need at this time of year. It tells them despite all the difficulties that life can bring, people really do care about the worst off in our society. It is the 'Big Society' in action, in the same way as it always has done.

Children North East ends the year in a very different place to its start. There has been a change of government, the emergency budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review. We all know about cuts in public spending but none of us yet knows quite what that will mean for our service users or our services.

We recognised early what the scale of the financial problem might be and got to work quickly and enthusiastically. It was important first to revisit our objectives and restate our commitment to children, children and young people's rights and to countering the effects of inequality on them, their families and communities. This gave us a firm basis from which to think clearly about the services we can offer and freed us from thinking that the only ways to finance our work were through contracts or grants to run whole projects. We are beginning to see that local authortities, schools and eventually GPs are prepared to purchase individual pieces of work from us.

During the last few months we have made many applications to Big Lottery and charitable foundations for funding for projects as well as continuing to talk to local authorities and PCTs about next year’s grants and contracts; and we have joined with other organisations to make applications for Big Lottery grants and to collaborate on other projects.

I think we have made a tremendous start to respond and adapt to the new funding environment; and I am optimistic that Children North East will cope well next year when some of our services will change from 'being funded' to 'being bought'. However there is still lots more to do and several months more uncertainty before we will know what size of organisation we will be in 2011-2012.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Boys reading

Last week the BBC news reported 10% of 11 year old boys have a reading age of 7 or less. Michael Gove was interviewed and predicatbly said the solution is to give schools more freedom so that those who get the best results can support others.

Primary school is the time to learn how to read. By the time children move to secondary school at age 11 it is too late. Academic studies found that text books for year 7 (the first year of secondary school) typically require a reading age of 13 or 14 years. They are a struggle for 11 year olds but will be an impossibility for someone with a reading age of only 7. Secondary school teachers are trained and expect to teach subjects, they assume that the basics - reading and maths have been covered in primary school. Secondary school teachers just don't have the time or skills to focus on reading.

A couple or weeks ago we had a contract monitoring meeting with representatives of Gateshead Council. Last summer Gateshead looked at their data on 'vulnerable' children - the ones that need most help in school. They looked at many factors and found that typically vulnerable children had 6 or more factors but almost always had the same four factors. The four factors are - free school meals (meaning children from poorer families), late birthday (meaning born after Christmas so younger when they started school and remaining among the younger members of the class), poor scores at Key Stage 1 maths, and poor scores at Key Stage 1 reading.

Children learn to read when people read to them at home and with them at school. Many primary schools employ learning support assistants or volunteers to help children with their reading. However not all can afford to do this or have local communities able or prepared to give time to help children read.

School leadership counts for much but so do money and community resources. Michael Gove says the 'pupil premium' - £430 a year for each pupil registered for free school meals, will enable schools to provide whatever support they think best. Doubtless David Cameron would say the 'Big Society' would encourage adults to volunteer to help out in schools, but is that realistic in all communities?

Friday, 17 December 2010

The value of the voluntary sector

Nick Hurd. Minister for Civil Society was expected in the region yesterday. In anticipation the Journal, Chronicle and Northern Echo all ran features about the impact cuts in public sector funding are likely to have on voluntary organisations and community groups. The theme was picked up today by BBC Look North.

In the event Nick Hurd did not turn up. However Children North East featured prominently in the Journal and a family we worked with spoke eloquently on Look North. They are looking after their grandchildren who would otherwise be in care, and said if it were not for organisations like Children North East more children would be in care at great cost to Local Authorities.

Jo Curry, Chief Executive of the Voluntary Organisations Network North East (VONNE) was asked whether David Cameron's idea of everyone doing some voluntary work would take the place of voluntary organisations. She said the 'Big Society' already exists in the north east! A quarter of the population here have done some form of volunteering in the past year but Jo made the point there would be far fewer opportunities to volunteer if the voluntary organisations were not there.

Last week the Northern Rock Foundation published university research commisioned about the state of the voluntary sector in the north east. We have fewer active voluntary organisations per head of population than other regions, but voluntary organisations in the north east deliver more public services than in other regions particularly 'social services' such as the work Children North East does. In the main funding for those services comes from the public sector.

This week Local Authorities found out how much money they will receive from central government. Two of the authorities that face the biggest cuts (over 8%) are in our region - South Tyneside and Middlesbrough. In September the BBC commissioned research which found that Middlesbrough was the least resilient town in the country in the face of cuts to public services. No surprise places like Dorset Windsor and Maidenhead, West Sussex, Wokingham, Richmond upon Thames and Buckinghamshire all get cuts of 1% or below.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The unkindest cut

Student protests against increased university tuition fees have grabbed the headlines this week, but amongst the protesters have been a smaller group of young people drawing attention to the abolition of Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs). These are means tested payments made to students from poorer families who would otherwise not be able to afford to stay on in education after GCSEs. Poorer families need the additional income that their 16 year old could bring in from any kind of job. The last government brought in EMAs to take the pressure off these young people so they got the chance to do A levels. But the Coalition has abolished new EMAs from January 2011. Students who already have an EMA will continue to get it for the rest of this academic year but not the following year. The government says something called 'learner support funds' will be available through schools, colleges and training providers to help students who most need it to continue in learning, however no other details have been released. There is a real risk that many able young people will not continue their education after GSCE let alone consider a university education.

Friday, 3 December 2010

New website

At last our new website is working please visit us at:

We are delighted with all the work done by our Webdurance team who have given their time and talent free to produce our new website. It started with a marathon 24 hour event at Newcastle University last summer followed by a lot of tweaking since. However the main problem has been sorting out where to host the website. Our existing web server did not have the specification required to host the new site and the all important content management behind it which enables us to easily update and edit the content of the website. It has taken a lot of work arounds followed by extensive testing to finally get us to this launch.

I am very pleased with the result. It is a great improvement on the old site and has the potential to grow to include things like selling our Christmas cards online next Christmas. So big, big thanks to Steve and the team for all their hard work.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Sexual exploitation

It is not often that I agree with Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardos but he is right to say this week that there are many cities and towns across the country where vulnerable young women are exploited sexually.

As long as 20 years ago it was well known by residential social workers that young women who went missing from care were often picked up by unsavoury men who gave them shelter but they could then easily be drawn into prostitution. These were girls from children's homes who often had no family to look out for them. Residential staff were only authorised to work in the children's home; field social workers did not feel they had the authority to intervene in situations which did not involve parents; and the police were not much interested in tracking down young people missing from care because no crime had been committed. Of course the men the girls live with chose to have as little to do with the authorities as possible.

In the absence of no single public organisation taking responsibility to intervene, voluntary organisations step in; Barnardos and The Children's Society in particular have done pioneering work about care leavers and also sexual exploitation of children and young people. It is hard to say whether more goes on than before or that the internet has made people more aware. For example earlier this week two young women contacted one of our projects. They were worried about a friend but did not know what to do so were looking for advice. They had noticed things on their friend's Facebook page which made them think she could be being sexually exploited and thought she might not be able to do anything about it herself.

These young people were being good friends, looking out for each other. Encouraging that kind of care and providing easy ways for young people to act on their concerns (such as contacting our WEYES project) fits with the notion of 'Big Society' rather than leaving everything to public services.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Friendship groups in Gateshead primary schools

This week Gateshead Council have published 'Delivering Vision 2030' that sets out the council's spending plans for 2011-2012. The document is for public consultation until Christmas after which the Council will make its final budget decisions.

We are delighted that the document proposes (page 52) continuing the grant it makes to Children North East for us to provide friendship groups for children in primary schools in the east of the borough. It is proposed that the grant will be reduced by 20% but we had thought it would not continue at all. At the same time the document says the council will discontinue grants to other voluntary organisations. I think this demonstrates the value that those Gateshead primary schools and Gateshead Council itself place on our service. Of course the grant is not guaranteed yet, these are proposals for public consultation but nevertheless it is promising and encouraging.

The document itself is an object lesson in clarity and transparency. It seems to list everything that Gateshead Council spends money on, says how much it spends and suggests what the council should spend next year. It also sets out a timetable when decisions will be made. Other Local Authorities could learn from Gateshead.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Newcastle PCT support for WEYES

A large part of the revenue funding for WEYES service comes from Newcastle PCT (Primary Care Trust). For some years we have had a contract from them to provide sexual health services for young people across the west of Newcastle. At one time this was an ideal 3 year rolling contract renegotiated annually. Recently the PCT has not been able to commit to 3 years but has continued to re-negotiate the contract each year. However this week the PCT have told us the contract will stand until 31st March 2013 when the PCT itself will cease to exist and it's responsibilities transfer to the emerging GP commissioning bodies.

This is good news because it guarantees PCT revenue income and work to WEYES for the next 2 years. The reasons seem to have to do with the PCTs long established strategy to have 3 bases for sexual health services for young people spread across the city - WEYES in the west, one in the centre and one in the east. And the wish of the PCT to maintain that strategy during the transition period when its responsibilities move to GPs. In effect it saves GPs from worrying about young people's sexual health for the first year or two of their new commissioning responsibilities.

It is really good to have certainty about some of our funding when everything else is so uncertain at present.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Fathers conference

Yesterday our Father's Plus service hosted a national conference in York. It was great to meet so many practitioners from all over the country who are passionate about the importance of including fathers in services for 'parents' and families. For 13 years Children North East has been pointing out that a great many services for parents are actually designed for mothers; and showing by example that getting fathers actively involved means working differently because most blokes are put off by the 'talking about feelings' model that services usually employ.

The theme of the conference was how to continue this important work in these straitened times. The previous government explicitly recognised the importance of fathers to good outcomes for children, it was written down in their 'Children's Plan' last year; but the Coalition government has other priorities. At the conference were presentations from officers in Blackburn with Darwen, Sunderland and Newcastle showing how our Father's Plus team has helped local services to get Dads involved in health, early years and primary education, with impressive results - you can read about it and see the conference presentations here.

Interestingly last week The Guardian reported research that fathers are less stressed and happier when they are more involved with their children and also doing their share of the housework: I agree with that, for me family life has been the most rewarding part of my life ever since I first became a Dad 18 years ago. The magazine 'Children and Young People Now' had a different take on the same research, they say employers should treat all parents (men and women) the same when it comes to flexible working hours.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


I have been thinking a lot about fairness this week seeing as the Coalition Government places such emphasis on it to justify decisions about welfare benefits in the Comprehensive Spending Review. My guess is the idea of fairness is 'hard-wired' into family life as we grow up - if there is a cake for tea everyone will want their fair share! Hasn't every child complained 'It's Not Fair!' at some point meaning they feel victim to some injustice? But I am not sure that 'Fairness' is an absolute concept in itself, I think it is more the means by which a social value is measured?

As far as I can see there are at least two models of 'fairness' in our society and we seem happy to use both at the same time, even though they contradict each other. On the one hand is the 'hunter' model - I am the hunter, through my own skill, daring and courage I kill the beast; am I not entitled to as much of the meat as I chose for myself? Anything left over can be shared with the others. And on the other hand is the 'mutual' model - we can all be the victim of bad luck, illness or accident may strike at any time through no fault of our own but when it does we can rely on the group to help us recover. The first finds it's expression in banker's bonuses and the second in the NHS and, until very recently the benefit system. Incidentally the RSA reports research evidence that we all routinely attribute our own success to hard work and talent and the success of others to their good fortune!

I have been worrying why I feel so uncomfortable about the use of 'fairness' to justify public policy. It is because it is not clear which model we are talking about in which context - applying the 'hunter' model in the context of NHS would logically mean complete privatisation of all healthcare; everyone would have to look after and pay for their own medical care.

The benefit system was set up on the presumption that some members of our society would have bad luck - sickness which prevented you from working or losing your job. It was intended to be a safety net until people got back on their feet, actually this was called the 'Social Contract' by a previous Conservative administration. However the Coalition Government is presenting a view that a large proportion of people in receipt of benefits are not unlucky at all, instead we are led to believe (probably on the back of focus group discussions) that they are feckless, lazy and 'sponging' off the rest of us. The idea of 'Fairness' in this context depends on whether you accept the premise that people are generally feckless or alternatively you believe they are unlucky. I think if we actually understood the lives of the worst off in our society we would find it is misfortune, bad luck that is almost always the root cause of their circumstances.

So for me the issue is not really 'fairness' at all, it is a question of social justice - whether we want a society in which everyone's dignity is respected and effort is rewarded but 'from each according to his ability and to each according to his need.'

Friday, 22 October 2010


The long awaited Comprehensive Spending Review was announced on Wednesday and doubtless much cleverer people than I will write about it at length over the coming days and weeks. The real shock is not the likely impact on local public spending (Local Authorities) but the axe taken to the benefit system. What if families cannot find work yet their benefits are reduced after 12 months out of work; and it seems they could also lose their home when housing benefits are also reduced? The changes in housing benefit will also have a huge impact on young people and abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance will mean far fewer will be able to afford to continue in education.

The CSR announcement is headlines, the details will follow in the coming weeks; for example of special interest to Children North East are the proposals for Sure Start Children's Centres and early intervention with families. Local Authorities will also be waiting for details before they can work out exactly how much money they will be getting from different Government Departments, then they will need to decide how to allocate it to meet local priorities. It will not be until February or even March before they are in a position to allocate money for contracted out services or grants to voluntary organisations.

Our AGM and quarterly Board meeting took place at WEYES last night. Life Members and senior managers are invited to the AGM as well as our Trustees. We launched our Impact Report for 2010 at the AGM. I am pleased with this, it is a change from the usual 'Annual Review' and much more focussed to demonstrate the difference we make for children, young people and families. We took the advice of 'New Philanthropy Capital' a think tank and consultancy to help funders and charites achieve greater impact. In August they published a paper 'Proving Your Worth to Whitehall' which recommended charities submit themselves to the same 9 testing questions posed by the Treasury to Government Departments during the Comprehensive Spending Review, so we did and the answers are in our Impact Report.

The Impact Report is organised into three themes - affirming family relationships; giving children and young people opportunities that raise aspirations; and encouraging community engagement. I think this makes more sense than the traditional 'service areas' after all no one outside Children North East cares how we organise ourselves internally, they want to know what difference we make. The Impact Report is being distributed during the next couple of weeks and will be on our website soon.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

WEYES images and Comprehensive Spending Review

Thnaks again to _space architecture and management who have made a short video made of images of the WEYES project from the start back in January when Tim Healy and Denise Welch did a photo shoot for the papers, to the open day last week when nearly 100 people came to see what had been achieved. You can see it on You Tube.

We are waiting on the Comprehensive Spending Review next week when the Coalition Govenment will announce the budget for the next 3 years for each Ministry. Hopefully there will be some 'headline' messages such as proposals for Children's Centres. However it is likely to be a few weeks before all the details emerge. Local Authorities get money from several different Government Departments so they will not know for a few weeks either exactly how much money they will be getting. Of course they also raise money from the Council Tax, Business Rates, car park charges and reserves, in fact only about half comes from central government.

When Local Authorities do find out exactly how much money they will have the next step is for them to decide their own priorities taking into account what they can afford. They will also have to decide what services they need and whether these are best provided by the Local Authority or the private sector or voluntary organisations like Children North East.

We hope that some of the things we already do for Local Authorities (such as supporting families in homeless accommodation to get them into proper tenancies) will continue, however it is likely Local Authorities will try to persuade us to do them for less money. And of course some things will not continue. My guess it could easily be February or even March before that last question begins to be answered. So the announcement on 20th October is just the beginning of uncertainty which could go on until April or longer next year.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Saying thank you, an inspirational story and how big is Big Society?

Last Tuesday afternoon we invited the many people who helped us to rebuild the WEYES project building and interested local people to come an view the building. We wanted to say thank you to everyone by showing them what they had helped to achieve. We were delighted that nearly 100 people came to view the building and join us in a small celebration. I am really pleased that so many visitors told us we had created a place that young people can be proud of, which tells them that they are valued. This is what we set out to do and why Children North East has invested in the project.

Councillor Dipu Ahad, one of the local councillors introduced himself to me during the afternoon. He is a young man who was one of the original group of local young people consulted as to what the WEYES project should be like even before it started. This would have been about 13 years ago. He remembered the group visited other youth projects before deciding that what was needed was am 'Enquiry Service' where young people could drop in and ask about any sort of issues. Later when WEYES first opened Dipu was a volunteer helping to run the project. He said it was that experience that got him interested in youth work. He trained and worked as a youth worker in Gateshead for a while which is where he got interested in politics and was elected to serve in Elswick ward in 2007. Dipu said he felt an obligation to help 'pull up' other Asian young people into politics as well. We invited him to meet the Newcastle Youth Councillors whom I am sure would be very interested to talk to him.

I was hopeful that David Cameron would use the Conservative Party conference to explain what he means by the 'Big Society'. Having heard his speech yesterday I am disappointed. By linking the 'Big Society' to 'Fairness' it is less 'big-hearted' society and more 'mean-minded' society. The Conservatives seem to be saying that if you work hard and look after your own that gives you the right to judge whether other people deserve assistance or not. Surely fairness is about looking after the people who don't get the breaks, not bolstering up those who can take care of themselves? Doubtless there will a lot more discussion about this in the coing weeks.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Funding the BIg Society

Last Friday the Children England north east regional group had a very interesting seminar about 'Social Impact Bonds' given by Chris Ford of Newcastle University.

This is an idea dreamed up by the New Labour government, Jack Straw wrote a paper about it last year. It was in the news recently with the first pilot in the Midlands to keep young offenders out of prison once they have been released. The idea is to get private money into public services. As far as I understand it, it works like this:

The Government contracts with a 'Delivery Organisation' to address a social problem (such as getting young people into training or employment); the Delivery Organisation and government agree very precise, measurable outcomes (e.g. X number of young people each in continuous training or jobs for at least 24 months); the Delivery Organisation works out how to do this perhaps by sub-contracting to other organisations (including the voluntary sector); and the Delivery Organisation also raises the money from charitable trusts, philanthropists and other lenders. The work starts, obviously with rigorous reporting and monitoring. At the end of the contract, if the Delivery Organisation has delivered the desired outcomes then the Government pays a dividend to the funders.

It looks as though everyone benefits. The young people (beneficiaries) get effective help; the Delivery Organisation (not government) carries the risk of getting the work done; it and the sub-contractors get paid for their work; the government gets things done without having to put the money up front; and instead of just giving money away, the investors may get a return on their investment which they can put towards more good works.

Government says it can pay a dividend from the savings it will have made from services it would have had to pay for if the young people not been in productive training or employment.

Here in the North East apparently Northumberland and Sunderland Local Authorities are working with the Young Foundation (who helped develop this model) to see whether local government could commission services in the same way. I might trust central government to pay on results; given the perilous state of their finances trusting local government to pay up is a different matter.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Big Society

Every year I am inspired by the Great North Run. For nearly an hour a torrent of people pass the end of our street on their way from Newcastle to the sea, all on a personal quest and most raising money for good causes, including Children North East! I am sure David Cameron would approve of this mobilisation of ordinary people willing to help others through sponsorship, perhaps he would call it the 'Big-Hearted Society'?

One of the runners was Alastair Campbell, former communications adviser to Tony Blair. I was delighted to be invited by the Board of VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) to meet him over dinner that evening. It was a great evening, Alastair is a very entertaining guest.

The subject of the evening was the 'Big Society'. Clearly it is David Cameron's 'big idea' and it is obvious he is not going to give up on it. Trouble is no one really knows quite what it means. All we have are these pronoucements:

An army of 5,000 professionally trained 'community organisers'.
A Big Society bank funded from dormant bank accounts to provide money to community groups.
Neighbourhood grants for the poorest areas to help people set up local groups and social enterprises.
Allowing civil servants to do voluntary community work.
Having a national 'Big Society Day' to celebrate local community action.
New funding for social entrepreneurs to get more social enterprises going.

But when it comes to what the Big Society will actually do it seems to boil down to pubs run by community groups; volunteers staffing libraries; and kind hearted souls taking in their neighbour's abused children.

Ministers have quickly jumped onto the bandwagon so that the Big Society can mean almost anything they want it to mean. And this was Alastair Campbell's main point - don't wait to be told, the voluntary and community sector should grasp the opportunity and define what the Big Society actually means. And of course it is voluntary organisations and community groups who are the heart of a 'Big Society'. We are already here on the ground working for the benefit of local communities, engaging people in voluntary work and (in many cases) supplementing public services.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Youth Link

30 years ago in 1980 Children North East started a 'Family Link' service in Newcastle which recruited parents as volunteers to befriend and help other parents who were going through difficult times. The idea worked and in the following 25 years we set up 'Family Link' projects in many parts of the north east.

Two years ago we reasoned if the model worked for adults, why not for young people too and so 'Youth Link' was born in Sedgefield. Youth Link recruits and trains young people to befriend and mentor other young people; it matches them with young people who are are in difficulty of one kind or another and supports them to help where they can. The volunteers complete a training course which is approved by an external body and can lead to an accreditation. And the service model has the National Youth Volunteer Network REACH award and is accredited by the National Mentoring and Befriending Foundation.

The model worked so well that last year we successfully applied to the Big Lottery for grants to set up two more Youth Link projects in Tynedale and Blyth Valley. The volunteers really enjoy the training which includes a team building weekend building rafts, bridges and the like. Most volunteer because the experience is likely to help them in their careers but get a lot out of getting to know and assist young people they would otherwise never met. The young people who benefit from the support relate more quickly and easily to contemporaries rather than adults and have been helped through difficulties like getting into trouble with the police, falling out with parents, suffering ME and been supported to make new friends, find new worthwhile activities and get on better terms with parents and teachers.

This evening we are hosting a celebration for all our Youth Link volunteers to award them their accreditation certificates and to thank them on behalf of the young people they have supported and Children North East for the contribution that they make.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Let's 'Lead not Plead'

Last night BBC North broadcast a debate about the impact of public sector cuts on the North East. I was pleased to be in the invited audience to point out that local authorities must be mindful to make cuts which will not result in them spending more money in the long run (see my blog 5th August).

Although people were worried about the potential scale of the cuts there was general agreement that the country cannot afford the present level of public expenditure. Our region has the highest percentage of public sector employees but as was pointed out, that isn't because the public sector is too big but because the private sector is too small compared to other regions. That is why abolishing One North East, the Regional Development Agency makes little sense at just the point when its investment in the low carbon industries of the future is beginning to bear fruit in electric cars and sustainable energy generation from wind and waves.

The tone of the programme was gloomy. We have a tendancy in the North East to blame central government for our troubles. Ed Cox, Director of ippr north (Institute of Public Policy Research) tried valiantly to move the discussion away from blaming others to taking responsbility for ourselves - to 'lead not plead' but without success. Currently the voluntary sector is particularly prone to pleading for public funds. Yet not so long ago it was voluntary organisations that were valued for their innovation and courage. The voluntary sector has become too reliant on public money in the form of grants or contracts which inevitably means doing what other people ask us to do rather than take the initiative ourselves.

There is no doubt that the voluntary sector will be hit hard by cuts when they come. As Children North East has already found, local authorities will always chose to cut money for other organisations before they cut their own services and staff. Rather than moaning, blaming, doing nothing or simply hoping for the best now is the moment for voluntary organisations to take the lead. Instead of looking to the public sector to know what is best and give us the money to do it, we should use our collective knowledge of the needs of the most vulnerable members of society to commission the services needed ourselves. Larger charities and 'umbrella' organisations like VONNE and CVS bodies are well placed to take on this strategic commissioning role convening coalitions of smaller organisations to develop and deliver solutions. They also have the relationships and authority to negotiate with public bodies, grant makers like charitable trusts and philanthropic investors. We often forget that in a time of cuts in public expenditure the voluntary sector can bring extra cash to the table by accessing funding that is not available to public bodies.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Thinking ahead

Just back from holiday. It is good to get away from the things which fill every day at work and take a little time to think about the future for Children North East.

The next six months are going to be extremely tough. For the last decade or more like other children's charities Children North East's income has mainly been from Public Sector grants and contracts which will be severely reduced. It is inevitable that some services funded this way will end and unfortunately some staff will lose their jobs. Even staff who keep their jobs are likely to lose some hours. A few services are funded from grant making bodies such as the Big Lottery, they will be safe for the time being. Competition for new funds from those and bodies such as charitable trusts will be very fierce and cannot be relied upon. They are more likely to fund new ideas based on solid research rather than existing projects. Income from charitable giving has only ever been a small part of our income (10%) and is unlikely to increase. We do not have large reserves we can fall back on to fund services.

The future has to be in social enterprise - offering useful, effective, value for money children and family services for sale to schools, GPs, local authorities and others. We have begun to package and market many of our existing services in this way. I am confident that this will work however I fear it will take time to establish, sadly more time than we have before the cuts come at the end of March 2011.

We still don't know what the Coalition Government's 'Big Society' actually means in detail but it certainly supports the role of volunteers. Children North East has an advantage here because we already know how to recruit, train, deploy and support volunteers to provide good services. It would be nice to have an accreditation like 'Investors in Volunteers' to demonstrate excellence in this. I am sure there is an important future for volunteers in Children North East.

But what about the longer term? What should Children North East be like in 3 years time? As a social enterprise I am certain that we will grow and in time we ought to be able to make a small surplus, how should we use that for the benefit of children and young people in North East England? The answer is in our aims: 'to promote the rights of children and young people and counter the effects of inequality on them, their families and communities'. We should be speaking out on behalf of children, young people and families. What if in three years time Children North East were in effect the 'Children's Commissioner for North East England'? Publicising our knowledge of the crucial issues affecting families and empowering children and young people to make their own voices heard about the things which effect them to the public and policy makers.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Substance misusing parents

Earlier this week the NSPCC reported that more than 4,000 children called Childline during the last 12 months worried about their parents’ drinking or drug habits. 35% of the callers reported physical abuse, three times more than other children and 20% mentioned family conflict. Children as young as 5 also spoke about having to look after siblings or their own parents.

The government’s own figures show that parental substance misuse is an issue in 49% of all child protection plans nationally and 75% of all serious case reviews. Drug and alcohol misuse by parents and the effects of domestic violence on children are significant concerns for everyone working with families.

The Children North East Hidden Harm service works intensively with families where parental substance misuse, mental health or domestic violence affects parenting and children are at risk of harm. Our Hidden Harm workers are highly qualified practitioners who can help bring about lasting positive change in families in crisis. We do this by working intensively with the whole family in their own home – parents and children several hours a day for four to six weeks using a range of techniques. Our Hidden Harm service is available from 7.30 am to 8 pm for 7 days a week; and in exceptional cases throughout the night.

The work is tailored to the needs of the family but focuses on child safety, coping strategies, practical support to establish routines, managing stress and anger. After the initial intensive period we continue to follow up for at least 12 months providing additional support as necessary. Feedback is very important so Hidden Harm workers write to the family after every visit, and send copies of those letters to the referrer (usually a social worker) building up a comprehensive picture of family life.

The Hidden Harm service can also save Councils money by keeping children safely at home with their parents instead of being taken into care. On average it costs a Council £36,653 a year to look after each child in care. The Children North East Hidden Harm service costs a fraction of that for a whole family.

It is important that issues affecting children are brought to public attention but the NSPCC and other big children's charities are all guilty of scaremongering especially in summer when there is not a lot of other news about. But they rarely say what can and is being done, the Children North East Hidden Harm service is already actively working with families to reduce and reverse the harm that parental substance misuse has on children.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Brilliant news and optimism

In June we were invited to London to present to the committee of an important charitable trust and ask them for a large donation towards the capital costs of the WEYES building project. Yesterday I was delighted to take a phone call to say we have been awarded the grant. This is absolutely wonderful news. We are extremely grateful to the trust for their generosity. We have applied to other charities as well but this was the biggest one. It's a huge boost to our finances and our morale. It makes us feel optimistic that other applications will be successful too.

We need optimism just now. We sent over 50 packs of information about our Hidden Harm services to potential referrers in different parts of the region this week. The Hidden Harm team have worked hard on the packs and who to send them to. They know their jobs depend on attracting referrals from other places but they have a first class service that really works all they need is the confidence to tell people about it. It does not come easily to us charity folk to sell ourselves, it feels like bragging. We prefer to quietly get on with doing a good job of helping people. I think if we can only get to meet potential referrers they will be impressed by the quality and commitment of the team and have confidence in them to deliver what they promise and have already demonstrated.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Keeping the service going

A couple of weeks ago I talked about having to tell all the staff in one of our services that they faced redundancy due to the unexpected early end to a contract we had with a local authority. Since then everyone has been working hard to keep the service going. The local authority concerned has said it is an effective and useful service. We have data to show we have saved the local authority double what our service costs by actively preventing children from being taken into care (the former DCSF worked out it costs on average a local authority £36,635 a year to look after one child in care). Last week we met senior Councillors and explained the decision to end the service makes no financial or moral sense and suggested they purchase it from us one family at a time. So far we have not had a reply to that suggestion.

We know that many of the other local authorities in the region do not have a similar service for families of children at risk whose parents misuse drugs or alcohol, have mental health problems or there is domestic violence. Nationally significant parental substance misuse is a fact in 49% of all child protection plans. So we think there is fair chance that other local authorities would be interested in purchasing our specialist service for some of these particularly worrying families. We have found the names and addresses of key people in all those local authorities and put together a pack of information for them. Those marketing packs will be posted tomorrow. Next we will be phoning all those people and arranging to meet them to explain how the service can help families they know at a realistic price.

At the same time our Board of Trustees has been asked to underwrite the cost of the service until the end of December to give it a chance to attract referrals paid for by other local authorities. It has been a very busy couple of weeks but we feel hopeful that this approach will work. If it works it could be a way of sustaining some of our other services too.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

WEYES is finished!

The keys for 4, Graingerville North were handed to back us from _space Architecture and Management last Friday and the WEYES staff team moved back in on Tuesday, they are now busy unpacking and preparing to re-open the building to young people next week. Everyone at Children North East is absolutely delighted with the transformation to the building that _space have made. It is now a welcoming, colourful and vibrant place that will say to the young people of Benwell and Elswick, ‘you are really important, you deserve a place as good as this’. We always saw this project as an investment in the young people of the area and that is exactly what has been delivered. So a huge THANK YOU to the whole team at _space for all they have done.

_space generously looked after all the design and planning stages for free, for which we are extremely grateful. Dave Heslop did the design work which has created clean spaces within a modernised building but retained and enhanced the traditional external features of the original building. Simon Humphrey of _space managed the building project and went to exceptional lengths to keep the costs as low as possible while extending the original specification, for example to include a new roof and reconstruction of the front parapet which proved to be dangerous. And none of this would have been possible without the interets and support of Rob Charlton, Chief Executive of _space.

The WEYES staff team will be running a host of activities from the project this summer. The new facilities mean that we can offer young people a great deal more than was possible before, for example the big kitchen area is ideal for a drop-in youth café where young people can chill and we could offer work experience for other young people to help run it. The study area means that tutors working with young people who are excluded from school will have a better experience of individual tuition. And we are already receiving enquiries from other youth groups wishing to use the group/meeting rooms. We expect that the Newcastle City Youth Council will see it as their base. This is all just a beginning of what are certain to be bigger things ahead.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Curate's Egg

Like the proverbial egg this week has been good and bad in parts. On Tuesday I had to inform 10 staff that they are at risk of redundancy because the contract we have with a local authority which pays for their service will be terminated from 30th September 2010 instead of running until 31st March 2011 as planned. The local authority has said this is no reflection on the quality or need for the service which provides very intensive therapeutic work for families where the parents have issues of substance misuse and the children are at immiment threat of removal into care, it is simply a matter of finance and having to make 'in year cuts'.

The service itself started only 8 months ago and in that time has documented evidence that as a direct result of what it does 20 children have remained safely at home rather than being taken into care. Had those 20 gone into care, using the Local Authority's own figures would have cost exactly double the cost of our service. So in effect we have saved the Local Authority money. I am hoping that Councillors will see that cutting our service makes no financial sense let alone the impact on children's lives. I am hopeful they will agree to a meeting where we can make that case.

Our Trustees met yesterday evening for their quarterly Board meeting and considered my report about the likely impact of cuts in public sector spending on Children North East in 2011-2012. I am very heartened that despite the grim forecast they specifically do not want to follow the public sector line and downsize the organisation. Instead they agreed to back my plan to retain capacity, market our services so that they can be spot purchased and develop new services and sources of income. They recognise next year will be very hard but are hopeful there will be new opportunities from 2012 when GP commissioned services will begin to happen; the initial impact of cuts in public spending will be over; and the Coalition government has had time to set it's priorities for children's services.

Finally before their meeting the Trustees visited the new WEYES building and were bowled over by how good it is. Quote: 'Wow! what a transformation!'

Friday, 16 July 2010


A huge thank you to our team who worked continuously for 24 hours to build us a new website as part of Webdurance organised by 1DayLater. This was a first for the north east and we were one of 6 charities to be chosen for a new website or website makeover.

Our team - Steve, Sarah, Graeme, Colette, Aidan and Belinda started midday yesterday and worked through continuously until noon today. They are a mix of designers and engineers with a load of creativity, ideas and commitment between them. I can't wait to show off the new design which should be uploaded in a week or so, at present it only exists on the team's PCs.

Our existing website is about 6 or 7 years old and shows its age, it is of its time being a static 'notice board' which does the job but does not change much each time you visit. The design is dull and, as the team pointed out rather blue (for boys) no pink (for girls) which means the colours are a bit dull too. I have wondered what the yellow curvy line is for too. We would like something that projects our image - friendly and professional. We want it to be different and interesting every time you visit and easy for us to edit.

The team have produced a colourful, fresh design which incorporates our Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia accounts and has a Content Management System which means it will be easy for us to edit. It is impossible to say how much this means to us. We wanted to update the website but could not afford to pay for it to be done professionally. Webdurance is amazing because it gives 6 charities the chance to have a professionally designed and built website - an absolute must today out of the generosity of the companies and individuals taking part. So THANK YOU so much!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Sandcastle Ball

Last night was the Sandcastle Ball and what a fabulous night we had. A terrific party which went on into the small hours and was enjoyed by everyone. Thank you very much to our two intrepid fundraisers Catrina and Carol.
Among the silent auction prizes was this superb cake made by Giraffes Eat Cake and donated to Children North East. My wife is an amateur cake decorator so she appreciated how much time and skill went into the making of this cake (everything is edible including the 'sand' made from granulated brown and white sugars). Anyway we bid for it and won it. As you can see we got it home without damage but then wondered what to do with it. After all cakes don't last for ever, they go stale and eventually mouldy.

So this morning we took it to our local primary school who had taken part in the Sandcastle Challenge on the beach last week. They were delighted and will be sharing it around as many children as possible today.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Sandcastle Challenge

We had a great day on Sandhaven beach in South Shields for the 16th annual Sandcastle Challenge. This year there were 1500 primary school age children from schools all over the north east including a couple of special schools. The theme was 'famous landmarks' - there were several Great Walls of China, pyramids, the Sphinx a couple of London Eyes, Hadrian's Wall, several Angels of the North, The Sage, Tyne Bridge and Penshaw. But amongst them some really unusual contructions - Capetown and Robyn Island including the World Cup stadium; Eyjafjallajokull the Icelandic Volcano which even erupted for the judges; Sutton Bank and the White Horse in North Yorkshire and a fabulous depiction of the elaborate door knocker on Durham Cathedral.

Each team can be up to 15 children plus teacher and a professional we match to the school. Professionals are architects, contruction companies, building suppliers etc. We work closely with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) North East region to organise the event. Professionals and school children work together to decide in advance what they will build and plan how to build it. Then on the day they have just one hour in a designated plot to build the constructions which are then judged. The best 5 receive £200 and an overall professional winner is chosen to be announced at the Sandcastle Ball next Friday.

We get lots of great press and TV coverage which is good for publicity. For example this from The Journal.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

More encouraging news

On Tuesday Catrina Flynn our fundraising manager and I went to London to make a presentation to the national committee of a Charitable Trust and answer questions. Naturally we prepared and rehearsed carefully for the hour long meeting with a panel of 5 people. I am delighted that today we were contacted to say the Trust would like to visit WEYES to satisfy themselves that the project is as good as we said it was and to make a recommendation to the Trust's Board of Trustees to make a grant towards the cost of the WEYES building project.

This really is exciting news. We are not there yet but well on the way to getting some help towards the cost of the building project. I am not going to name the Trust until it is definate but you can tell I am very hopeful.

The 5 people we met in London were very interested in the project and asked intelligent questions (in fact the hour we spent with them rushed by). I think one of the most telling was asking whether it would not be better to do outreach work to young people in need by going to places where they gather like burger bars. There is no Macdonalds, Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken in the area where WEYES is and the reason is that the area is not wealthy enough to support businesses like that. And young people are the ones least likely to have money to spend in them even if they did exist. It is easy to forget just how disadvantaged Benwell, Elswick and many other wards in the North East are compared to other parts of the country.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Youth Council elections

At the start of this year Children North East won a contract from Newcastle City Council to assist young people to set up an independent Youth Council for the city. This work is being managed by WEYES and in time perhaps the Youth Council will have a permanent home in the new WEYES building.

An incredible amount of work has gone on since February so that the first elections to the Youth Council could take place this week. The 'constituencies' had to be set up, candidates recruited, manifestos produced and disseminated, the election published and a voting method established. Young people could vote online or in their school using the actual ballot boxes which are used by adults in local and general elections.

The result of the election was announced at a reception in St. James's Park at lunch time today. The Sheriff of Newcastle congratulated all 50 candidates and gave awards to each and every one of them for putting themselves forward and for taking part. Then the result was announced. Over 8,000 young people had voted - an astonishing result in itself which gives real legitimacy to all the young people elected to 30 places on the Youth Council.

Congratulations to everyone who took part and in particular to all the project staff at WEYES who worked so hard on the election. You can see all the results on the Youth Council website: and here are all the candidates with the Sheriff:

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Fifth site meeting

It is really taking shape now. The site meeting this morning took place in the new meeting room which has been built at the back of the building where there was once just an old garage. It is light, airy and a good size for meetings, group activities or training. You get to it through the kitchen, which has been considerably enlarged and is big enough now to accommodate several small cafe type tables and chairs should the project want to use it that way.

There is a clear hallway all the way through the ground floor so you can see part of the kitchen area from the front door and also, to your right the new recpetion area. All the rooms have a proper shape now. The health room is in the same place as it used to be downstairs at the front of the building, but the room has been restored to its proper proportions which is a big improvement. Upstairs too all the rooms are looking good.

_space have done a terrific job managing the building work so that it will finish as orginally planned in mid July and the total cost will be as planned, just under £300,000 plus VAT even though the work has included things which were not budgetted for like a new roof, repairing the forward leaning parapet at the top of the front wall, restoring the stonework and sorting out the front garden.

By the time of the next site meeting in July the building will be practically complete.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Chlamydia Knickers

WEYES has a significant contract with Newcastle Primary Care Trust (NHS) to provide sexual health services for young people in the west area of Newcastle. You have probably seen the Chlamydia advertising on the TV, that is because if left untreated it can cause serious problems including infertility and it is the 16-24 age group who are most at risk - 65% of all people who have Chlamydia are in that age range. Each year the PCT and WEYES agree a target number of young people to be screened for Chlamydia and each year it goes up. The NHS in the North East wanted 25% of 15-24 year olds tested in 2009-10, this year they want 35% tested. For WEYES that translates into 1200 young people to be tesetd for the first time in 2010-11 and in particular the PCT want to target young men age 16 to 18 because they are the group least likely to come forward for a test.

Last year the PCT offered free 'Chlamydia knickers' to everyone (girls and boys) who was tested. The knickers have pictures of Chlamydia monsters on them like the advertising and became very popular - a must have fashion item for teenage girls in Newcastle! This year the PCT budget has already been cut so there are no more knickers to give out. Having no incentives for the young people will make the task more difficult to achieve but WEYES has developed an active programme of outreach including involving some young people to promote the sexual health services on offer at WEYES to their contemporaries in places like Newcastle College.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Encouraging news

For months now we have been applying to charitable trusts for capital grants for the WEYES building project. These things have a long lead in. For most trusts there is no set time to apply nor are there closing dates. You make the application but then have to wait until the people who award the grants have considered it (along with all the other applications they receive) and make a decision. The meetings may not take place until several months after you applied. As far as we can tell most trusts receive many more applications than they can possible make grants to, they have to make choices but it is not clear how they decide between applications. A lot is left to the person applying, we have researched those trusts which say they are willing to support capital projects for young people in the north east of england and applied to those to give ourselves the best chance, but in the end there is a lot of luck involved.
So I am pleased to say that our application to a large national foundation based in London is looking hopeful. First we applied to the North East committee earlier in the year who supported the application and forwarded it to the national committee for consideration. Just this week we have been invited to a meeting in London later in June where we will be asked to make a presentation to support our case and answer questions. This is one of the larger applications we have made so I am particularly hopeful that it will be successful.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Think Pink

Rob and Diane Charlton, directors of _space architecture and building management in the North East hosted their annual 'Think Pink' charity ball in aid of WEYES at the Marriott Hotel, Gateshead last Friday. It was a fabulous evening hosted by TV personality Wendy Gibson which raised over £20,000 towards the cost of the building programme. To raise so much is an incredible achievement when so many businesses, are struggling in the present economic climate especially in the building industry.

We in Children North East are very grateful to all the people, too numerous to mention who came to the ball and were generous in their support of what we do and our work at WEYES in particular. This big contribution brings the total raised from local sources for the WEYES building project to £85,000 (the target is £100,000 by the end of 2010).

Thursday, 13 May 2010

WEYES fundraising website

_space have launched a new website to support fund raising for the WEYES building project. The front page says 'We are supporting WEYES, will you?' and includes pictures of Tim Healy and Denise Welch at the project when the building work started earlier this year. The website says that WEYES is supported by the _space Foundation.

This launch of the website coincides with the _space 'Think Pink' charity ball tommorrow night which this year is entirely for the WEYES appeal. The website includes photographs of the interior before work started and a virtual tour of how parts of how it will look when it is finished in July.

The website is at: uk

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Fourth site meeting

Fourth site meeting today. All seems to be going well. Young people from the WEYES project have met an interior designer from _space to select colours. They also chose floor coverings, paving and railings for the front garden. Some of the staff have visited the site too and suggested some minor changes that will create some more storage cupboards from what would have been 'dead' space.

All the windows are in place. The new frames for the old building at the front had to be 'coaxed' into spaces which are no longer 'square' due to the age of the building but look nice and neat. All the stonework on the front is going to be repaired with some 'super substance' which is painted on and fills in the gaps.

The brick parapet on the front is a bit worrying. It leans forward a couple of inches so it is proposed to tie it back with 8 long metal rods secured to the parapet at one end and the roof at the other; but then also drill vertically downwards into the brickwork for a metre or so and insert steel rods there too. We wondered if the old bricks would take that or whether they would crumble. Anyway the plan is to try it and if it looks too dodgey to stop and instead take down and rebuild the parapet reusing the original bricks.

Inside the health rooms are taking shape, the downstairs one in particular at the front looks set to be a lovely room complete with one rounded corner. The upstairs health room also has 'character' - the floor slopes slightly due to the age of the building! The kitchen is a huge room and set to become the heart of the whole place. The new group room in the extension is a good size room too. Upstairs many of the rooms and the stairwell have been plastered. Many of the windows have large, deep sills.

None of the ceilings are in place yet, they are all going to be suspended ones with tiles and they will be put in place at the very end after all the decorating so nothing gets splashed on them.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Up on the roof

In the last week the roof has gone on to the new large extention at the rear of the building and the roof to the original building has been replaced. It was possible to reuse most of the orginal tiles but some new ones had to be purchased too. You can't see the roof from the ground because it is hidden behind a parapet and behind the parapet is a gulley. The gulley has been replaced too so that the roof will certainly be watertight now. At first we were in two minds about replacing the roof but it was in worse repair than originally thought and has been achieved at no great extra expense.

We share a chimney stack with the property next door, a small tree had sprouted from our side of it which has been removed and some brickwork relaid, Simon of _space who is managing the building project had some photographs taken of the neighbour's chimney for them to decide what they want to do about their side which is also in need of some repair. Apparently builders have a duty of care to neighbouring property owners to do things like that.

Simon is worried about the parapet. From the ground it looks OK but when you get up close, the top couple of feet lean outwards by two inches or so. There could be a danger of the coping stones on the top of the parapet falling. If it leaned inwards it would not matter so much because anything falling would fall into the gulley rather than crashing to the ground. Simon is going to ask the engineer if it is safe enough and if not what could be done about it.

By the time of the next site meeting in a week the windows should have been replaced - gradually the whole project is coming together. Thank you Simon and _space!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

A Long Swim

The Swimathon took place last weekend. It is the biggest fund raising swimming event in the world. The Swimathon is a 5 kilometre swim which people can enter as individuals or as a team. I took part as an individual. The Swimathon takes place in pools all over the UK. I took part in the Sunderland Aquatic Centre which is an Olympic size pool so 5 kilometres was 100 50 metre lengths.

I have done the Swimathon before but not for several years and never in a 50 metre pool which means only half as many 'pushes off the side' and therefore a bit more work than a 25 metre pool. Of course I have been practising and regularly completed half the distance in one hour at a nice steady pace. On the day I was sharing the lane with 5 others all going at different paces, lots of overtaking and slowing down when it was not possible to get past.

So I was very pleased to complete the distance in 2 hours 6 minutes and 8 seconds which is actually a couple of minutes faster than the last time I did it some years ago.

The important thing is the sponsorship - I am delighted to have raised over £600 for the WEYES building project from donations to my Just Giving page, cash and Gift Aid. So a very big thank you to everyone who sponsored me - and there is still time to give, just click the Just Giving button on the right of this page.

Who knows what is next - perhaps the Great North Swim next year (1 mile in the open water of Lake Windermere) - very cold!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Disappointing news

Earlier this year we made two seperate applications to different rounds of the Social Enterprise Investment Fund. This was money for capital grants to social enterprises and charities from the Department of Health which was managed on their behalf by the Social Investment Business. When we saw the criteria for applications they seemed too good to be true and so timely for the WEYES building project. Writing the applications was time consuming but we got them in on time but then heard nothing.

The orginal specification said decisions would be made by the end of March, as that point came near we phoned the Social Investment Business who said there had been a lot of applications which were taking longer than anticipated to process so the timescale for decisions would be extended. However the person did say that if we had not already been contacted by an assessor it was unlikely that our application would progress any further. This week we received a letter to say we had indeed been unsuccessful. The frustrating thing is that no feed back was offered so we don't know where we went wrong.

By chance there was an opportunity to meet an adviser for the Social Investment Business this week and naturally we took the chance to ask what had happened. It seems the Social Investment Business normally deals with loans not grants and had been overwhelmed by the number of applications so most likely there had simply been too many. That is a reason of sorts but still does not provide any opportunity for us to learn how we might improve our chances of being successful in the future. It was no fault of the adviser that she expected to talk to us (and others) about loans but found herself answering the same point about the SEIF grant to several people.

We are continuing to make applications to Charitable Trusts for capital grants and have quite a few being considered at the present with more being prepared. I hope we will be more successful with them.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Third site meeting

The third site meeting took place at WEYES this morning. The weather has continued to be kind so progress is ahead of schedule. The huge extension on the back of the building is nearly built and the roofer has started work replacing the tiles on the main roof. Both the old and new roofs will be completed in the next couple of weeks, then the whole building will be weatherproof. After that the weather will not be able to delay progress at all.

Inside, the new walls and some of the ceilings have been put in place and the plasterers have started work from the top of the house. We need to decide colour schemes soon. The _space interior designer will be meeting staff and young people from the WEYES project to work those out. The idea is that the the whole of the inside of the building will be new and up to the minute but we will preserve and restore the outside of the building. _space have taken advice from a conservation expert about the stonework at the front of the building. There will be new windows in the whole place, mostly UPVC but at the front they will be wood in keeping with the age of the building. The company making the new steel fire escape at the back of the building has also offered to replace iron railings at the front of the building - the originals were probably removed during the second world war. We have applied to the Ironmakers Charitable Trust for a grant for that work.

Unfortunately there was another break-in a couple of weekends past, this time the thieves started to remove new copper cabling which had been installed in the attic. It would seem they were disturbed but we are worried they could return and cause more damage. If they do they will be surprised! It is a sad fact that building sites attract thieves and ours is at it's most vulnerable just now until the windows and doors are fitted.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Newcastle Youth Council

Today's Newcastle Journal launches the Newcastle Youth Council. I have been excited about this since Children North East bid for the contract last November which we won in February. I have not been able to speak about it until now, it is a really important peice of work for us.

Newcastle City Council want to go further than simply having a forum for young people, they actually want a Youth Council that has authority and independence. This is why they looked for an external agency to work with a steering group of young people to help them hold elections and then work with the elected young people to establish how the Youth Council will work. I am delighted that Children North East was chosen for this work. It seems to me it is exactly the sort of advocacy role that we should have and I hope that we will be able to more of it in future.

It seems to me that there are two key issues facing children and young people today, the first is poverty which is so damaging because it affects self-confidence and aspirations; the second is intolerance of young people which I have written about in this blog several times. Many Children North East services try to ameliorate the impact of poverty on families, I would like us to be doing much more to break down the dreadful intolerance that adults have of our young people, the Youth Council is a small start in that direction.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Some history

We are very fond of our history in Children North East and often tell the story of how the organisation started in 1891 as a day trip for 120 street children from Newcastle and Gateshead to the fresh seaside air of Whitley Bay. It is a good story repeated in the Chronicle last Saturday.

The past is important and we will be celebrating our 120th anniversary next year, however the present and the future are more pressing. WEYES is Children North East investing in the future of young people in the west of Newcastle, it's an expression of our belief in them.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Northern Chords

I was invited to attend the launch of Northern Chords at the Gateshead Hilton last night. It's the second year of the chamber music festival organised by three remarkable young men, all of them still university students. The festival is the brainchild of Jonathan Bloxham who is the Artistic Director. Jonathan is studying the cello at the Guildhall School of Music and appears in all four concerts over the course of this coming weekend.

Chris Stokel-Walker does the publicity including the fabulous festival brochure. Chris is studying English at Newcastle University and has a great way with words. I am very grateful to him for his occassional blogs about Children North East.

The third member of the team is Tom Rowley who is studying at Oxford University and tireless promoter and organiser of the whole festival. All three are former pupils of Newcastle Grammar School. The festival supports Children North East because Carol Taylor our Senior Fundraiser inspired them during her talks at the school about the charity's history.

Last year's festival was the first, an experimental showcase for good chamber music, this year the concept has been extended to include a competition for talented young musicians in schools across Tyneside. The final 10 will compete in a special concert at Newcastle University on Saturday lunchtime and the finalist will appear in the last concert of the festival in the Sage on Sunday evening.

It is fantastic to have a showcase for young musical talent here in the North East. It will be an aspiration and may even set some musicians on a great career. Having met the three fantastic young men behind the festival I have no doubt that we will all be hearing a great deal more of each one of them in the future.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Cash flow

We have been talking to the bank about a loan so we can pay _space upfront for the work they are doing at WEYES while we continue to fund raise. We wanted colateral for the loan to be against the value of our head office building. On Monday the bank said they would give us the loan but against our investments. On Tuesday our Board of Trustees Finance Committee thought about the proposal and accepted the idea. This is a relief because it means we can pay the builders and not have to worry about our cashflow.

In the meantime we are applying to charitable trusts asking for help with capital costs. For some months Catrina Flynn, our PR and Fundraising Manager has been researching the hundreds of charitable trusts available to select the ones most likely to be able to help. This has to do with the charitable objectives of each trust for example those that are interested in projects that support young people in the north east of Emgland. Nevertheless some of the possible trusts prefer you to talk to them which is my job to do.

We are still waiting to hear from the Social Investment Business about our applications to the Social Enterprise Investment Fund for capital grants. We are told just to wait, more applications to process than had been expected and the timescales have been extended to enable the assessors to cope.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Second site meeting

Our second monthly site meeting at WEYES today. There was a little delay in progress while _space reached agreement with the neighbour about demonlishing the shared wall but the project is back on track again largely due to excellent weather for making foundations! Much of the inside of the building has been taken down to make way for walls for the new room layout. Fortunately nothing worrying was found except for one small area of dry rot in a wooden lintel above a window which can easily be replaced.

The crack I described in my post on 18th February has been fixed and looks very solid. Not only were new courses of bricks used but also mesh in the mortar between the courses. That just need replastering now. A great deal of old plaster has been removed all over the house

The old garage at the back has been demolished and quite a lot of the back of the building. This is to make way for the big extension on the back of WEYES which will have the new kitchen and a large room for group activities. The foundations for the extension have been laid, fortunately they did not have to be quite as deep as first thought and have been approved by the Building Inspector. Blocks have been delivered and the builders were starting to use them to build the extension walls.

When _space got onto the roof it was in a worse condition than had been thought so we have decided to have a new roof rather than repair the old one, seems silly to s'poil the ship for a h'penth of tar'. _space have found a roofing firm who can do it at a very reasonable cost, so when it is finished the whole building will be new.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Lego auction

It happened like this. A well wisher retrieved a lot (boxes and boxes full) of Lego from a skip which she donated to Children North East. Our fundraising team had been talking to Northumbria University about student placements in Children North East and fund raising. Why not give over a day during Student Volunteering Week (this week) for students to make things out of Lego which could be auctioned? That is exactly what happened yesterday at the Richard Ling gallery in Gosforth. It has been such an unusual event that there has been plenty of coverage in the local newspapers which is good for everyone involved.

The students spent the day making necklaces, coasters, earrings, Lego flowers in plant pots, The Angel of the North, mobile phone holders and even a cushion and bra decorated with Lego. You might have thought they would be art students, but actually most of them were studying law or journalism. Richard Ling very kindly gave everyone the use of his gallery and hosted a public auction in the evening when all the items were sold.

I am now the proud owner of four highly decorative coasters made from Lego which are on display in my office. We did not make a lot of money but that was hardly the point. Everyone had fun, there was good publicity for all involved, new relationships were made and there is still a lot of Lego left over which we will give to children to play with.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A Crack

We knew there was a crack in the wall at the WEYES building running from top to bottom on the party wall inside the WEYES building. When Children North East bought the building the surveyor said it was OK. The picture shows it after _space removed the plaster from around it. At the top of the house shown here it is large enough to put a fist in, on the ground is it barely a crack.

It seems it was built in 1877 there was an option to have an extention on the back or not (some of the terrace don't, ours does), however you can see from the brickwork that little attempt was made to link the courses of bricks, in effect the extention was abutted and over time it has fallen away very slightly. The structural engineers have examined it and the solution is to remove three courses of bricks at three foot intervals all the way up the house and then relay properly across the crack in effect 'stitching' it together, and then plaster over the top.

Amazing what can be done by professional builders who know what they are doing. They seem to  enjoy doing stuff like this, more of a challenge than a new building.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Government grants

A few weeks ago I mentioned we had applied to Government for a grant under the Social Enterprise Investment Fund which is Department of Health capital funding for social enterprises and voluntary organisations who deliver services that contribute to the health and wellbeing of communities. The DoH realised some years ago that prevention of poor health is far better (and cheaper) than looking after sick people; and also that the work voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises do in communities contributes significantly to the general health and well being of people, which in turn prevents poor health. All well and good and a perfect fit for the WEYES project.

No sooner had we submitted an application by the closing date, than the DoH announced an almost identical opportunity again for capital grants from the Social Enterprise Investment Fund. This time you can apply for between £150,000 and £400,000 which has to be drawn down almost immediately. The application form was slightly different, it asked more detailed questions about purchase of property, planning permission, architect's drawing etc. Once again we think our circumstances - having already bought the WEYES building, obtained planning permission, commissioned architect's drawings (and even starting the work) ideally fit the fund requirements. But we can't quite believe it and it seems unlikely to us that many organisations are in a similar situation to apply.

When we spoke to the fund managers they suggested we apply again and just note on the application that we had already replied to the previous round. They were not able to tell us the progress of the first application nor when they would be able to give us a response. It's rather like entering a looking glass world, all we can do is hope.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

New work for WEYES

I am delighted the Journal printed my letter last Saturday which, I am told is the day that has the largest readership. It is important to remember that WEYES is just one Children North East project yet the theme that runs through all the projects is addressing the impact of inequality on children, young people and their parents. I am sure we are going to hear a lot more about that in the run up to the general election.

I'm very excited about a new contract Children North East has won this week. The local authority concerned asked us not to make a public announcement just yet, but is a blog 'public'? Depends how many people read it - probably not that many?

Back in November we submitted a bid for a contract to set up and support a Youth Council in one of the North East Local Authorities. The Local Authority concerned wanted an external body to do this so that the Youth Council had genuine autonomy and would therefore be better able to challege the Local Authority, giving young people not only a real voice but more importantly some influence. It seemed like an ideal opportunity - shouldn't an organisation called 'Children North East' be supporting children and young people so that their voices are heard?

A team of us worked hard on the bid, pulling together our collective knowledge of 'participation' by young people and the creative ideas of the staff at WEYES. Just before Christmas we were informed that we had been shortlisted with one other organisation. We were invited to make a short presentation about how we would persuade a group of young people to be part of a Youth Council, and then be interviewed by a panel of young people. That should have happened at the beginning of January but was postponed until 1st February due to the snow .

A lot of preparation and rehearsal went in to the presentation and after the interview we thought we had spoken as well as we could. We were delighted with the news next day that we had won the contract! This is particularly good news for the staff at WEYES who will be managing this new work. It adds to our concept of the new WEYES building being a base for a range of services and activities for young people.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Poverty and Inequality

The photograph and story in the Journal last Monday is great publicity for the campaign. Since then there has been a lot of focus on child poverty and inequality. This is a letter I wrote to the Journal about it:

'The measure of childhood poverty is relative – family income less than 50% of median income after the cost of housing. So as the incomes of the richest increase, the gap between best and worst off widens and more fall into poverty.

In the UK the gap between incomes grew faster than any other developed country during the Thatcher years. From 1997 the Labour government tried to reverse the trend with some success in the first five years of this century, but unfortunately that ground has since been lost.

The UK is now the most unequal country in Europe except Portugal, and one of the most unequal in the world. Convincing worldwide evidence shows that all kinds of social problems – violent crime, teenage pregnancy, drug misuse, depression, the number of people in prison and even obesity are closely linked to inequality. In country after country the greater the gap between rich and poor the worse the social problems.

Children North East knows of many families who are struggling to make ends meet. Too many children live in houses their parents can’t afford to heat; children who don’t have a winter coat and children who don’t get three meals a day because their parents can’t afford it.

We also know there are a great many individuals and businesses who care particularly during this recession. The generosity of North East people is well-known for example this Christmas Children North East received over 6000 gifts which we distributed to children, the biggest number we have ever received. We are extremely grateful on behalf of all those children and their parents.

Which ever party forms the next government the crucial issue which must be faced is to reduce inequality of income. That can be done two ways – tax the earnings of the wealthy or increase the income of the poorest. It is up to us as voters to decide which is the most just.'

Monday, 25 January 2010

Building Futures - Changing Young Lives

That's the notice on the hoarding outside WEYES today. And also today The Journal has published a photo of Tim Healy and Denise Welch getting to work helping to transform the building, written by Alastair Gilmour who is using his journalistic skills to help publicise Children North East. Thanks also once again to _space for project managing the construction project on behalf of Children North East.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Building and swimming

Monday 18th January was a Big Day, the day when buidling work started on the WEYES building. _space architecture and management have taken over the building, set up a site office and started taking out old fittings and demolishing internal walls. WEYES is now a designated buidling site which means no one - not even Children North East people can go there without permission (and a hard hat and boots!) from _space. It is hard to believe that work has started at last after all the time it took to obtain planning permission. We have monthly site meetings planned so that we can see how the work is progressing. And the target is to finish everything within 26 weeks - that's 16th July 2010.

It's about time I did something to actually raise money for the WEYES campaign instead of just writing about it. So I have signed up for the annual national Swimathon ( the world's biggest fund raising swim. It's 5 kilometres (just over 3 miles) which is 200 lengths of a 25 metre pool. Swimming suits me better than running and although I have completed the Swimathon before that was a good few years ago now and I am well out of practice. So I need your encouragement, please support me to raise £1000 for WEYES, it's easy to do just click on the 'Just Giving' button on the right of this page. And Thank You!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Loose Women

Being a children's charity most of the Children North East workforce are women and at any one time some of them may be on maternity leave. This afternoon there were phone calls from several of them to tell us that Denise Welch had been talking about the work Children North East does with young people on today's broadcast of 'Loose Women' on ITV.

So thank you Denise for some more free publicity, it seems your programme is very popular with Mums at home!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Fund raising

Last Monday Catrina, our fund-raising manager was invited to give a presentation to the local committee of a national charitable trust. She asked for a large grant to pay for one of the new rooms in the WEYES building. It was not a straighforward interview because the committee members asked lots of questions about the day to day running expenses of the WEYES project which Catrina had not prepared for. Nevertheless yesterday the committee phoned to say they would like to recommend Catrina's request for consideration by the national committee of the trust and asked her to complete a form giving additional information. This is promising news because our target is to raise £200,000 for the WEYES project from big donations from big charitable trusts like this.

We also want to raise a further £100,000 in small amounts from local giving. To date we have got £46,000, nearly half of that amount. This is generous donations from North East businesses, individuals and fund raising events last year.

Also this week John, our Head of Finance and I have been putting the finishing touches to an application to the Department of Health for a grant which, if successful would pay for most of what we need to raise. This is money that charities and social enterprises can apply for to activities that support community wellbeing. We have no idea whether this application will be looked on favourably or not but finger's crossed!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

2010 will be a great year

2010 is going to be a great year for WEYES and Children North East.
Just before Christmas we had a 'Pre-Start' meeting with the guys at _space architecture and management. Fred Cosgrove of Hall and Partners, Project Managers and Construction Consultants has very kindly offered to look after Children North East's interests in our relationship with _space and he was also at the meeting. The big news is that _space take over the site on Monday 11th January to erect hoardings etc. Building work proper will start the following Monday, 18th January and is expected to take 26 weeks so the project should be completed by 16th July 2010.

The WEYES building retains some original features especially just inside the front door. There are some beautiful tiles on the wall illustrating scenes from literature (e.g. Morte d'Arthur) and stained glass panels around the inner door depicting signs of the zodiac. All these will be retained and cleaned. I noticed the stained glass was dated 1877 - presumably when it was built. This picture of Newcastle was taken in 1877, the year after the Swing Bridge (in the picture) opened.
1877 was the year in which Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, Alexander Graham Bell installed the first commercial telephones, the first Test Match between England and Australia was played and Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake had it's debut performance.

We have a grand old lady in the WEYES building to be proud of. She needs bringing up to date but she also deserves to be looked after.