Friday, 13 September 2013

Seeing Newcastle through Young People's Eyes

It was a privilege to be at the Newcastle Council Policy Cabinet in the Civic Centre last Wednesday evening. Policy Cabinets are open meetings for the public and stakeholders to discuss important questions with City Councillors. This time for the first time the meeting was lead by Newcastle Youth Councillors. Children North East staff support Newcastle Youth Council to achieve its aims.

Planning started early in the summer when Youth Councillors canvassed the views of young people on the street in the city centre as well as collecting views on postcards from youth groups and schools and the Youth Council's own objectives. We were told there are 64,000 children and young people in Newcastle and although the Youth Council could not speak to them all they had had over 1,000 comments and felt confident they could represent young people.

Later in the summer Youth Councillors analysed all the responses and wrote a detailed report and a summary for the Policy Cabinet meeting focussing on just 4 questions:

  1. Does the Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum taught in schools prepare young people for life?
  2. How can we ensure young people have rich experiences on offer and can pursue their interests, regardless of the financial resources within their family?
  3. The economy in the North East relies upon city nightlife but what message does this send to young people about how to have fun in Newcastle?
  4. Do young people have a future in Newcastle or will the jobs be elsewhere?
The meeting took place in the splendid Council Chamber and was full. For once the adults shut up and listened to these articulate, confident, thoughtful, engaged young people. It was a very special occasion. You can get a flavour of the discussion on twitter @NewcastleYouth.

Nick Forbes, Leader of the Council chaired the meeting which included young people of all ages from organisations all over the city. So what came out of the meeting? For me it was evident young people want to be prepared for life and expect a large part of that to happen in school but they don't think the present PSHE curriculum is fit for purpose. They want to work with a school to develop a different, more useful PSHE curriculum.

If you have some money the city centre has quite a lot to offer young people, even if you don't young people enjoy being in the centre window shopping and hanging out. If you can't afford to be in the centre you can probably find something - a local youth group or after school activity but it might not be what interests you in which case hanging out on the street is your only option. Youth groups can offer the chance to learn about things you can't do in school - like animation for example; schools don't seem to ask their students what sort of extra-curriculum activities they would like.

Everyone applauded when one young person said TV programme 'Geordie-Shore' should be banned! Young people are very proud of their city, heritage and culture they don't like seeing it trashed on TV - Newcastle is not just a party city. Young people like to have fun but you don't have to get smashed to be having fun. However at night most of what the city has to offer is based on alcohol, there is very little for young people so you get young people pretending to be older than they are blagging their way into pubs and clubs. We were told actually inside it feels reasonably safe but outside, streets full of drunk people are scary. The Youth Council is calling for alcohol-free youth cafes in the city where young people can go in the evenings.

The most moving part of the whole discussion was hearing young people talking about their hopes, dreams and ambitions for the future - to travel, to go to university, to have a good job, to come back to the north east and make a home here, to see their city prosper and be a part of it; and also their concern for peers who might easily become NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

The City Council announced they will give the Youth Council an office in the Civic Centre so that they are close to the heart of decision-making and have more influence. The adult councillors clearly want to work with the Youth Council in the interests of all young people in Newcastle. I hope the Youth Council feel very proud of themselves, they prepared for and delivered a stunning and memorable Policy Cabinet. I very much hope that some actions will come out of it.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Poverty and rubbish

Last week Children North East organised a Fun Day in a small neighbourhood in West Newcastle. It is an area of old terraced houses and back lanes in the northern style and one of the most racially mixed parts of the city.

With a small amount of money we provided free ice cream, face painting, animals to handle (snakes and big spiders) and pavement art. Over 270 children, young people and curious adults came along. The ice cream and face painting were huge successes - a lot of children are from economic migrant families many of whom had never tasted ice cream nor experienced having their face painted before. Half way through the afternoon someone offered music and set up their sound system on the street including karaoke creating a street party atmosphere. Everyone had a great time and asked when would it happen again?

The event had another purpose - to ask people what they wanted to change about their area, overwhelmingly they said clear up the rubbish in the back lanes and on the streets. The council estimates the equivalent of 100 elephants bulk of rubbish is left on the streets in this small area every year which looks unsightly and is expensive the clear up.

The reason for our interest in the area comes from our project 2 years ago asking children to take photographs of what poverty looked like where they live. The pictures they took here showed children playing in the rubbish, young people hanging out in derelict rubble-strewn backyards, boarded up shops and cheap takeaways. Those same children and young people helped planned the Fun Day to get some action going that will make a difference.

We asked people where the rubbish comes from, they told us people in need of money knock over the wheelie-bins, haul out the rubbish and take away any clothes they can find which they sell at a nearby 'Cash for Clothes' shop for 60p a kilo. They are driven to these desperate measures through necessity but it leaves mess everywhere. The council has suggested fining people - but how would you catch them and where would they get the money to pay a fine?

By the end of the day we not only had a remit from the community but also  a small group of young people and adults keen to find on a solution. Our next step is to form them into an action team. I'll let you know what ideas they come up.