Thursday, 26 May 2011

Newcastle Youth Council

Last Friday I attended the official launch of Newcastle Youth Council. It is a little over a year since Children North East organised the first ever election to the Youth Council when 8,500 young people voted for over 50 candidates. Since then the ones who were successfully elected have been working hard to create what it thought to be the first independent Youth Council in England. There has been a lot to be done - working out the terms of reference for the Council - what it wants to do and how to do it, how often it will meet, what it will discuss and its relationship with Newcastle City Council. Also setting up the brand and marketing. The launch also marks the launch of their website:

Children North East has been helping the Youth Council in all these tasks. Not telling them what to do or how to do it but facilitating, advising and carrying out tasks they requested. The launch last week was the culmination of all that work. The Youth Council depends on a grant from the City Council but in all other ways is now able to manage its own affairs. This is the goal of our work with them.

The recent political change to the City Council from Liberal Democrat to Labour may mean many changes however I hope they will continue the grant to the Youth Council so that it can run its affairs for the coming year, its first year of full independent operation.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A regional voice

It's in the name - Children North East  is a regional charity. True almost all our services are in the north of the region but our photography project (see 5th May) funded by the Beatrice Webb Memorial Trust will engage with 100 children and young people in each of the 12 local authority areas in the region, including the southern Teesside ones.

The Coalition government is abolishing regional bodies which probably makes sense in other parts of the country that don't have a sense of regional identity, but the North East is an exception. People outside think the North East has a regional identity and even though Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside have their differences we do share a common legacy of the decline of coal mining, ship building and heavy industry. Greater London is the only other identifiable English region, there the regional development budget has been given over to the Mayor. In the North East the RDA's money disappears with it. Government Office North East has already closed and other regional bodies are set to go too. At the same time the North East, largely Labour, has lost practically all its political influence. A vacuum is developing and there is much discussion in the region how to fill it.

Earlier this week VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) launched their 'Thrive' initiative at an event in the Great North Museum. There were organisations from the whole of the region. 'Thrive' is about informing us about loans from Charity Bank, European Union funding, loans and business support for social enterprises etc. - the so called 'new funding environment' for the voluntary sector.

Last Friday I took part in a discussion at Durham University about what structures can we collectively put in place to do the things we think need organising regionally such as attracting tourists, transport and economic development. This week we had a useful meeting with the Institute for Local Governance at Durham University which is interested in collaboration between academics in the 5 universities in the region and people working here. They call it 'co-production' - a combination of academic and 'tacit' knowledge.

Today I have been to a conference organised by NEPACS, a Durham based prison visitor charity which is even older than Children North East. The conference was to disseminate recommendations from research they commissioned into the needs of prisoners families and their children. NEPACS works with all the prisons in the North East. The conference was addressed by the Prison's Minister who questioned why NEPACS  should not be ambitious to work in other parts of the country. But charities evolve to fit their local circumstances, ways of working here do not necessarily transplant elsewhere. And we are not businesses, our ambition is to do good, not to grow for growth's sake.

Our photography project is opening doors for us with the regional child poverty strategy group which is lead by the Association of North East Councils. I am hopeful Children North East will indeed become known as knowledgeable about child poverty for the whole region and for ensuring that children and young people's voices are heard.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

A Big Lottery visit

We hosted a two day visit this week from a member of staff from the Big Lottery. He was on a 'fact finding' mission to find out what life is like in a voluntary sector organisation, I gather some of his colleagues were on similar visits in other organisations. He visited some of our projects - the ones that are easiest to 'see' because they are in buildings - WEYES, the creche and after school club in the homeless families accommodation; and also one of our Youth Link projects. Then he had discussions with senior members of staff.

I spent the end of his second day with him. I was delighted to be told how impressed he was with the quality of work he had seen, the care taken by Children North East staff in their work and their commitment to the children and young people they work with. I welcomed the Big Lottery wanting to find out more about what actually happens 'on the ground'. For some time I have felt the Big Lottery's idea of grant making has been too 'traditional'. They seem to assume that grants pay for a particular project based in a particular building, a model which just does not work for an application by a consortium of organisations. In the latter it seems to me although one organisation administers the grant, the others get paid for the work they do (a spot purchasing model) I think that encourages and supports the direction in which we all have to go, but Big Lottery seem reluctant to support it.

We got to talking about ideas we have for projects. Last year Gateshead shared some research with us which showed that children we struggled in school almost always shared 4 features - poor literacy, poor numeracy, poverty (free school meals) and born late in the school year. We would like to train secondary school students to be reading buddies to primary school children. This would improve the primary school children's reading; give the secondary school students new skills that could make them more employable; and would smooth the transition to secondary school. We could do it in Gateshead by building on the relationships we have with schools through our frindships groups and by adapting our Youth Link scheme that trains and support young people as volunteers to mentor other young people. I am pleased to say he thought this was a brilliant, simple idea and encouraged us to apply for a grant.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Child poverty photography project

I have mentioned before that we are being supported by the Beatrice Webb Memorial Trust to conduct a photography project across the whole North East asking 100 children and young people in each local authority to take photographs that illustrate what poverty means where they live. We have been piloting the concept in some of our own projects this month ahead of rolling it out across all 12 local authorities in June and July.

The two images below are from a series taken by one young woman. A recent survey of residents in this area of Newcastle found that they were generally happy with the neighbourhood, they found it friendly and safe. The photographs show how the physical area makes the photographer feel.
Cheap food Junk and Disorderly
The pictures are about junk, disorder, cheapness, secondhand and second rate, poor quality, scrap, trash. Hard to maintain aspirations among all that. WEYES is in this area, it's very appearance says 'quality', an investment in young people's futures.

If other children and young people produce such eloquent images they will provide a moving insight into what poverty does to young minds.