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.