Today we held our annual staff conference called the 'Bigger Picture'. It is an opportunity to get the whole organisation together to share and celebrate what we do and acknowledge and thank the staff for their hard work.
This year we focussed on the impact that growing poverty is having on children, young people and their parents in the north east. As many of our staff pointed out it is not just lack of money but also increasing stress on family relationships caused by lack of money and also the lack of opportunities for children to experience activities that most people take for granted (like going swimming) and for young people to achieve their aspirations.
The most memorable parts of the day for me were listening to our staff talking about their work and just how very vulnerable the parents are as well as their children. For example last Christmas we successfully appealed for tickets so that children and young people could go to visit Santa, the pantomime and ice skating. A great many really enjoyed these opportunities but only if our staff took them. Even if we gave tickets to the parents, most would not use them for the simple reason that they have no experience of those sorts of activities themselves, they would feel out of their depth, not know what to do or how to behave. Rather than risk embarrassment they avoided going so their children would miss out.
We discussed ways in which we could provide holidays for families for example a few nights in a caravan. However again many families would not feel able to make use of such an undertaking. One of our staff said what we need is a holiday place where the staff could take the families to take care of the parents as much as the children. In 1913 this organisation opened the Edward Brough Home in South Shields to be a holiday house for deprived city children - Plus ça change (plus c'est la même chose).