We currently have over 100 volunteers, this is many more people than we employ. For over 30 years we have been recruiting, training and supporting volunteers to befriend parents and young people in need. Some volunteers have gone on to professional training courses and become paid staff for Children North East.
Almost all the volunteers last night event were young people from our 3 Youth Link projects in Sedgefield, Tynedale and Blyth. 'Youth Link' projects recruit young people (often students but increasingly they stay on as volunteers once they start work) to mentor other young people in some kind of need. For example young people who have low self-esteem, very little confidence, poor emotional well-being, falling out with their parents; lacking friends or having difficulty joining sports activities or social clubs because of conditions like ME and autism. The real strength of Youth Link is that it is much easier for young people to relate to someone close to their own age. These projects are all about ‘having someone to talk to’ and are highly valued by the young people and families who use them.
We train all our volunteers and they are supported by staff to visit young people referred by professional agencies and help them achieve their goals. The training for our Youth Link volunteers is a course we have developed that is accredited through the Open College Network – the course is worth having as well as the experience of learning about other young people's lives and of helping them. Whether the volunteer pursues a career in the helping professions or not the experience is a valuable addition to their CV.
Volunteers save the public sector money. For example Youth Link volunteers have been commissioned to support young people with learning difficulties and other special educational needs to learn how to use public transport to get to school or college instead of taxis paid for by the local Council. We are currently setting up two new Youth Link Projects in different parts of Newcastle upon Tyne, I believe we will be recruiting more and more volunteers.
The young people received certificates in recognition of 100 hours and 200 hours volunteer work. This is the number of hours spent with the young people or being part of a steering group to develop the services. It takes about a year to build up 100 hours. (At the suggestion of volunteers, they are awarded a hoodie when they complete 50 hours volunteering).
There was also a new special award to remember two fabulous ladies who collected over £1m for charities and were terrific supporters of Children North East. Olive and Margaret, known to thousands of party-goers in Newcastle as ‘the ladies in the Bigg Market’ were a regular sight on Saturday night touring the clubs and bars dressed as cowgirls with their collecting buckets. In 2010 Noel Edmunds honoured them with a trip to America to meet their heroine Dolly Parton on his Noel’s Christmas Presents show. Sadly Olive passed away last December but we will remember her's and Margaret’s extraordinary commitment as an inspiration to new generations of volunteers. This special award was for one volunteer who has made an outstanding contribution.