Helping children since 1891! It’s our 130th anniversary and your support for children in the region is more vital than ever – get involved.

Whilst Children North East is marking its 130th anniversary, two significant players in our charity’s history are also celebrating their 58th.

Douglas and Margaret with the Order of the British Empire medal

Douglas and Margaret Johnstone tied the knot in 1963 after meeting at Stannington Sanatorium near Morpeth. Stannington was the first sanatorium in England for children suffering from tuberculosis, which was established by the Poor Children’s Holiday Association (the charity that was renamed Children North East in 1988).

Douglas ran a Scouting group there in the late 1950s and fell in love with one of the nurses looking after the sick children that were treated at Stannington, aged between three and 16. That nurse was Margaret.

The couple’s lives became intertwined with our charity and Douglas eventually became its leader. Douglas received the OBE for his charity work at Buckingham Palace with a proud Margaret by his side. Today they still live in Morpeth. You can meet this wonderful couple In this short video, put together for us by Northumbria University journalism graduate, Sarah Storer.

Watch our video


TV star Tim Healy has been in the recording studio for Children North East to read a specially commissioned poem that forms the backdrop to a film launched today (Monday July 5) to celebrate our 130th anniversary.

The poem, titled, You’re Not Alone, has been penned by Geordie poet, Scott Tyrrell and the film has been made by South Shields-based Unified Films.

It is hoped the film will not only raise awareness but also much-needed funds for Children North East so that it can continue helping babies, children and young people in our region.

Chief Executive of Children North East, Leigh Elliott said:

“Covid has hit our beneficiaries hard at a time when child poverty rates in the North East are growing faster than anywhere else in the country outside inner city London. In parts of Middlesbrough, 46 per cent of children are living in poverty and in some areas of Newcastle it’s 45 per cent, these are also pre-Covid figures which is extremely worrying.

“At the same time, charities like ours are finding it harder to raise income because our usual mass participation fundraising events – such as our annual schools Sandcastle Challenge – can’t go ahead in the same way. So we hope our film, which demonstrates how we stand up for children, will remind people why we’re here and move them to support us.”

Tim, who is our valued Patron, travelled from his home in Cheshire to record the emotive poem at the Harbourmaster Production Studio in South Shields.

He said: “Both the poem and film are fantastic. Children North East has been supporting youngsters and their families since 1891 when a couple of chaps decided to take a bunch of kids out to the seaside for some fresh air and a bite to eat and, though it’s sad we’re still needed today, the main thing is we are still here for families.”

Scott with Tim at the recording studio

The charity was founded by shipowner’s manager, John Lunn and cashier to Newcastle Corporation, John Watson, both of whom were concerned about the health of poor children living in the Newcastle slums. Lunn wrote an open letter to the newspaper to Watson with a practical suggestion of how to help:

‘Are there any street lads in your Mission to whom a day at the seaside would be a treat? If so, we might organise a trip’

As a result of the letter, 120 Tyneside children enjoyed a boat trip on the river to Tynemouth. The idea caught the public’s imagination and soon weekly trips were being organised, paid for through public donations.

Today, our charity offers a wide range of support and in 2019/20 our staff created life changing differences for 3,921 babies, children and young people across the North East and further afield through 28 diverse projects from mental health counselling to supporting children who have suffered domestic abuse.

Geordie poet, Scott Tyrrell, said it had been an honour to have been asked to write the poem.

“The North East spirit is tremendous. We’re a mickey-taking lot but there’s something in our gut that compels us to lift up those who are struggling. I think that, most of all, is the message I’ve tried to get across in the poem.”

And Jon Burton, who runs Unified Films along with Ryan Gibson, added:

“It’s been such an enjoyable challenge to bring Scott’s incredible words to life, as well as to do justice to 130 years of Children North East, a charity that does such important work in support of babies, children, young people and their families in our region.”

“As well as the likes of Beamish offering up their amazing premises to the production, we’ve had such a dedicated and passionate cast and crew, all so aware of the importance of what we’re doing, and as such, giving it their absolute all. We’re very excited to share the film and tell the story of this wonderful charity!”

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Come behind the scenes of You're Not Alone

Jon Burton and Ryan Gibson of Unified Films in South Shields are the guys behind our 130th anniversary film, You’re Not Alone and as Jon explains in this blog, it couldn’t have been a more appropriate project to be involved in since both have just become new dads…


Ryan with three-month-old Reuben (left) and Jon with Jude, nine months

Reading the words of our friend and past-collaborator, the poet, Scott Tyrrell, Ryan and I looked at each other and telepathically knew that ‘You’re Not Alone’ was going to have to be bigger and bolder than anything we’d done in order to do the poem justice. It went on to be the most ambitious film we’ve created, with four different concurrent stories running over different time periods, featuring between 20-30 actors and extras in multiple locations.

Our scheduling and paternity leave also left us with relatively little time to achieve all of this, with just over a month being the window for all stages of production. Gulp. So yes, the process of making the film has been challenging but also rewarding and enjoyable in equal measure. 

The high stakes, scant time windows and demands of the production set the stage for a uniquely ‘unified’ experience, with every crew and cast member going above and beyond what was required of them to make things happen, which has been truly humbling, and quite honestly, a downright amazing feat of community in action.

The good-natured ethos of Children North East seemed to be reflected in the attitudes of those who came forward to offer help to the film. Whatever we needed, there would be someone there to offer it up, many of whom citing their reasons for inconveniencing themselves as, ‘It’s for the children’, very much adding credence to the idea that we’re a region that cares deeply for its kids.

We truly do live in a region that isn’t afraid to offer a helping hand, and we seem to share an unspoken, instinctual drive to protect and care for our children. And we were proud to be North Easterners to begin with…

The production has also possessed a sort of surrogate family vibe. With many of the actors being children, there’s been a sense of joy, exuberance (and chaos!) on the set, as well as a nurturing energy which appropriately reflects the charity that we’re trying to depict. The children, might I add, teaching us as much as we’ve taught them, rewarding our patience and presence with the spontaneous wonder that only children can really provide.

Ryan behind the camera on Roker Beach

Ryan and I have also just had baby boys, so once again the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate, with chaos, joy and steep learning curves being the run of the day at the minute in any case! It seems synchronistic to us that, at a time when we’re learning to care for our children, this project came along that would show us just how much that theme runs deep, and that family can be something more than what you would expect.

Where we sit now, at the very end of the journey with this project, Ryan and I confidently concur that it has in many ways been the epitome of why we do what we do. We like to tell stories that inspire, and there are few examples out there as appropriate to that as the story of Children North East. We truly hope everyone enjoys the film as much as we’ve enjoyed making it, and feels deeply the pride from knowing that our region (and the dedicated staff of Children North East), chooses to take vulnerable children and parents by the hand and assure them, ‘You are not alone’. 

Support our 130th Year Appeal

Sports equipment packs are being sent to 230 vulnerable families across south west Durham thanks to a joint volunteer project by Bishop Auckland College and Children North East.

The packs, which include a football, space hopper, tennis game, Frisbee, skipping rope and urban chalks, are being given to young people who have suffered from social isolation as a result of Covid.

They were designed and put together by staff from Children North East and 15 students from the college, and are being distributed by the North East Autism Society, Shildon Alive and the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust over the next few weeks.

The initiative is the first of three Youth Social Action volunteer projects that students at the college and Children North East are jointly working on, funded by #iwill (Step Up and Serve), National Lottery Fund, Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport, County Durham Community Foundation. The next will be a community family fun day in August.

Saffia Solomon, Participation Worker at Children North East, said: “We have been working with a group of young people from Bishop Auckland College, inspired by the #iwill Youth Social Action campaign.

“They designed and filled physical activity packs to send to 230 families impacted by the isolation of Covid-19 in Bishop Auckland, and selected three charities to benefit from a donation: North East Autism Society, Shildon Alive, and Solan Connor Fawcett.

“The group are continuing to positively impact their community, organising a family fun day in early August.”

Stacy Stoker, Early Years lecturer at the college, added: “This is a fantastic initiative which will benefit so many families who have been particularly affected by social isolation during the pandemic.

“I have been so impressed by the students who have taken part, showing so much empathy with the young people they are helping. We are looking forward now to planning for the family fun day in August.”

  • Pictured with the physical activity packs ready to be delivered to the North East Autism Society are (back row l-r): Elsie Kitching; Amber Parker; Saffia Solomon, Participation Worker – Children North East; Sophie Spires; Chloe Murphy; (front row l-r): Stacy Stoker, Early Years lecturer – Bishop Auckland College; Kieran McBride; Charlotte Riding; Kerrie Highcock, Family Development Manager – North East Autism Society; Evie Walker.

As Operations Director at Children North East, Michele Deans is very involved in what is going on with the fundraising team and was very excited earlier in the year when we launched a Hadrian’s Wall Virtual Challenge as part of our 130th anniversary celebrations. In this blog, she tells us how because she has enjoyed ‘walking the Wall’ so much, she’s decided to do the length of it all over again!

Walking was a big part of my life growing up. We didn’t have a car and limited public transport in the area I grew up meant that I had to walk the five mile round-trip to school daily.  This never bothered me, but as I got older, got a job and learned how to drive, walking took the back seat and I must admit, even short walking journeys were taken by car.

But all that was to change in December 2019 when we adopted a gorgeous and excitable little Westie with lots of energy that we named Dolly (she is as feisty as Dolly Parton).  Suddenly I had to walk, a lot, and I began to enjoy it!  When lockdown came in March 2020, I found that at the end of the day, walking around our local park was part of my routine and this has continued, except the walks have got longer, more challenging and I have felt my physical health improving and of course my mental health has been boosted too.

The virtual Hadrian’s Wall Challenge presented me with focus and I have loved every minute of it and the little trips we have taken. There were a couple of reasons why I wanted to do this, first and foremost, I am passionate and committed to the work that we do and wanted to get involved in something I knew I could do and that I knew friends and family would sponsor me for. Also, I knew my little pal ‘Dolly’ would become my companion on my virtual Hadrian’s Wall walks.

On March 1, I signed up to the fundraising app ‘GivePenny’ and the activity tracking app Strava (to make sure I could keep an accurate record of my kilometres) and I started my long walks. By mid-May I had completed the walking challenge – 130 kilometers – but I wasn’t quite finished. I thought a real challenge for me was to walk there and back, so to date I have completed 244 kilometers and I am pretty sure I will get to 260 by the weekend.

By mid-May when the weather started to improve, we took off to other areas of the North East, completing long walks from Craster to Dustanburgh, in Northumberland along with more miles around Seahouses and Bamburgh and Barnard Castle in Teesdale. Then last weekend we took off to Twice Brewed, near Haydon Bridge, to walk some of the actual Hadrian’s Wall itself.

The simplicity of GivePenny has been brilliant and, as I suspected, family and friends have been generous. In fact I am about to reach £200 in donations which will go in some way to supporting our services.

And I’m not planning to stop now….I am looking to find another walking challenge to keep me going. I’d recommend the Challenge to anyone of moderate fitness – you can clock up the miles however you want to, in your local neighbourhood, or if you have access to transport, it’s a good excuse to get out and enjoy our beautiful countryside. In fact, while you’re out there, you could even take some photographs and enter the Children North East 2022 Calendar Competition!

New free school meal figures have confirmed a multimillion-pound funding loss for the region’s schools.

In March, together with North East Child Poverty Commission and Schools North East, we wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, highlighting the potential impact an ‘administrative’ change to the way in which pupil premium funding is allocated would have for schools in the North East.

The calculation for pupil premium has been changed by the Government so that it will now be based on the number
of pupils at each school eligible for free school meals (FSM) in October, rather than January, as has previously been
the case.

New figures published by the Department for Education confirm that there was an increase of 5,700 pupils in
receipt of Free School Meals across the North East between the school census of October 2020 and that of January 2021. This
means that schools in the region are facing a loss of up to £7.66 million in pupil premium funding as a result of the
Government’s change.

So the three organisations have written to the Education Secretary again today strongly urging him to reverse this decision, now that the scale of the funding loss for schools and pupils in the region is clear.

Read the full letter here

The new data also highlights the significant economic impact of Covid-19 on North East families, with almost 16,000
more pupils in the region becoming eligible for FSM between January 2020 and January 2021. This means almost
109,000 children and young people in our regions are now eligible to receive this support – 27.5% of all pupils, up
from a pre-pandemic 23.5% – the highest rate in the country, and joint steepest increase of anywhere in England.

Luke Bramhall, Poverty Proofing & Participation Service Manager at Children North East, said:
“Pupil premium is used by schools to provide extra teaching staff, breakfast clubs, additional resources like laptops
and tailored support for their most disadvantaged students – indeed, during the pandemic it has been used by
schools in the North East to provide support directly to struggling families.

“It is difficult to understand how removing almost £8 million of this funding from schools across our region – which has experienced some of the worst learning losses a result of Covid-19 – matches up with the pledge to build back better from the pandemic.”

Director of the North East Child Poverty Commission, Amanda Bailey, said:
“Schools in our region went into this pandemic already facing some of the highest rates of disadvantage in the
country and the new free school meal figures confirm just how starkly existing levels of hardship in the North East
have been exacerbated by Covid-19.

“If the Government is serious about levelling up areas like our region, it must put investing in children and young
people at the heart of its recovery plans – but it’s now clear that the decision to change the way pupil premium
funding is allocated totally undermines that commitment.”

Schools North East Director, Chris Zarraga, added:
“The North East is seeing significant Covid-related increases in poverty, including in schools not located in areas of
high deprivation, highlighted by the increase in the number of students eligible for pupil premium.

“School budgets are already suffering due to continuing outgoing costs of Covid safety measures, and the decision to use the October 2020 census data will have a serious detrimental impact on our students who have already suffered significant disruption over the last year. Any short-term savings made by using the October census will be more than offset by the longer-term economic losses to the region of not properly supporting our students to ‘recover’.”