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.

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