27th July 2021
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 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.
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.”
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!”
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.”
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
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
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.
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’.”
An innovative new Children North East project which aims to build better mental health amongst young people using the virtual game, Minecraft, has received funding from Comic Relief and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
The ‘Tech for Good’ project is the brainchild of one of our Young People’s Service counsellors, Paul Hedley, who saw that the game – which allows children to create a virtual version of almost anything they can imagine – from castles, to cities to their own house or school – could be a really useful way of delivering therapeutic counselling.
“Minecraft offers an open world for the client and therapist to explore and shape together as well as many possibilities for creative work and in game challenges. This project will run alongside our traditional counselling service, however it will not be a standard part of our service delivery.”
In the initial discovery phase, the views and ideas of young people will be sought and these will shape many aspects of the delivery which will also place safeguarding at the heart of the project.
The £38,000 plus funding will facilitate this initial planning stage when all virtual interaction will take place on secure servers owned by Children North East.
“Once these are operational, we will gradually roll out the service to suitable clients in early September,” Paul said. “Then the project will be fully evaluated to assess the value of using this platform to deliver therapeutic counselling in the future.”
Minecraft is proving particularly beneficial to children on the autism spectrum. For young people with autism, Minecraft provides a view on the world and the rules that frame it and teachers and autism specialists around the world report that when young people work in multiplayer mode, they figure out how to talk to each other and share ideas.
Children North East was one of only 20 out of 361 organisation who applied, to receive a grant through their digital development fund aimed at supporting charities to strengthen their services in light of the continued impact of Covid-19.
More than £1.3 million has been awarded as part of the new Tech for Good programme, ‘Build’, which was originally developed in response to the need for charities to use technology to explore different approaches to delivering better services.
Now, the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the drive for organisations to explore how digital and design capabilities can help transform or maximise their work in supporting vulnerable people even further.
The programme allows Children North East to explore this new approach to therapeutic counselling and will give us access to technical support from experts and advisors at CAST ( the Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology).
Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive of Paul Hamlyn Foundation, said:
“Over the last year, so many organisations have transformed the way they work to continue to provide vital support amidst unprecedented challenges. As we begin to think about building back, digital development has a critical role to play. We hope that Build will provide these projects with time and space to experiment, to learn from one another and to realise effective digital solutions to help meet pressing social needs. Together with Comic Relief and CAST, we look forward to learning alongside those we support and sharing their work.”
Samir Patel, CEO of Comic Relief, said:
“We are pleased to be able to support 20 organisations with Tech for Good funding over the next year, to take a user-informed approach to the digital development of their services. We hope the learning that will emerge from this year’s diverse portfolio of funding will contribute to strengthening the social tech ecosystem in the longer term, empowering more organisations to use digital, design, and data and work together in new ways to increase their impact.”
Our Young People’s Service Manager, Ricky Murray, added:
“I’m really excited about this project and truly believe that it will be fully embraced by those who wouldn’t otherwise engage in therapeutic services.”
Today Children North East joins a cross-sector group of educationists, charities, business leaders, unions and young people in urging the Government to reconsider its pandemic recovery measures for children and young people, asking them to urgently boost investment.
In two separate letters to the Prime Minister, coordinated by Fair Education Alliance and the National Children’s Bureau, and signed by over 240 leaders from across business, education and the charity sectors, campaigners have again urged the Government to invest in their stated intention of levelling up and show real ambition for the recovery for children and young people.
While researchers estimate that £13.5bn is needed to help children recover from a year of disruption, isolation and anxiety, the Chancellor has committed to spend only one tenth of this amount.
Campaigners insist the pandemic has deepened the existing crisis in funding for the education of disadvantaged children. Alongside extra money for schools to spend on staff development and interventions for pupils, a wider investment in measures to address the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people, such as reversing rising child poverty, reducing waiting times for mental health help for children and young people, and investing in the services that protect children from abuse and neglect, is urgently needed.
Alongside the letters, business leaders have highlighted that a strong education system and wider support for those in need of help is critical for future economic success:
Amanda Mackenzie OBE, Chief Executive of Business in the Community, said:
“The calls to action in these letters to the Prime Minster highlight essential issues that cannot go ignored. Business leaders share our view that the economic recovery and future prosperity of the UK rely on having a diverse, skilled and educated workforce, and that development starts with children. The signatories of these letters have shown a commitment to wanting investment in children’s future and we urge the Prime Minister to act before it’s too late.”
Experts are calling for the Government to set out a new and ambitious vision of childhood and education to support children, young people and their families to recover from the impact of COVID-19, with #ChildrenAtTheHeart.
The pandemic has affected every single child in the country, causing untold disruption to their education, development and welfare. Children with disabilities, those suffering from trauma, and the millions living in poverty have been hit the hardest. Yet the money promised to help their recovery falls far short, and sends the message to struggling families that they simply aren’t a priority for the Government. As well as making up lost ground in education, we have to fight for a better deal for our children, one that protects their mental health, secures them adequate support services, and overcomes the devastating effects of poverty. The breadth of organisations calling for government to realise this is too wide-reaching to ignore.