Thursday, 16 June 2011

Going to bed crying with hunger

On Tuesday morning the Radio 4 Today programme broadcast Emma Simpson talking to a family in Bournemouth. Both parents work - Dad cleaning at night and Mum a school dinner lady; they have a mortgage and need to run a car but do not have enough money for food. Often the parents go without meals to make sure the children don't go to bed crying with hunger. The report noted the rise in demand by families for food from Trussell Trust Food Banks which are organised by churches.

Later on in the same programme Paul Johnson, Director of the Financial Services Agency explained why the poorest people currently experience higher inflation than the rest of us. It's because they spend a greater proportion of income on food and fuel both of which have risen rapidly due to world commodity prices since the recession began in 2008. Better off people spend a greater proportion of their income on mortgage interest which has been low since 2008. He said the bottom fifth of the population are currently experiencing inflation of 4.5% while for the top fifth it is 2.5%.

Wages are static so inflation eats into household income, but at a higher rate for poorer people. Government used to link welfare benefit rates to the Retail Price Index but in April 2011 the Coalition Government changed it so that now rates are linked to the Comsumer Price Index which tends to rise more slowly than RPI. Over time this means the value of benefits will decrease.

Children North East has always been concerned about the impact that poverty has on children. Our mission is to ensure no child's potential is diminished due to poverty. There are going to be more children living in poverty and their lives are going to become harder.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Roger Olley MBE

Congratulations to Roger Olley who has been awarded the MBE in the Queen's birthday honours for ‘services to families’. From 2000 until his retirement in 2010 Roger led the Father's Plus Service for Children North East.

In the 1990s we recognised that many services for 'families' actually only engage with mothers yet research shows children do best when both parents are actively involved in looking after their children and their education. So we set up the Father's Plus Service to prepare men for fatherhood and ensure that fathers are included as equal and valued parents in services such as childbirth and maternity, early years and primary schools.

Under Roger’s leadership the Fathers Plus service has become the leading UK experts on how to involve fathers and male carers in ‘family’ services. Roger managed a team of Fathers Workers who built up expertise in involving Dads then spread this knowledge to Sure Start Children's Centres, Primary Schools and Community Health Services all over the UK.

Roger contributed significantly to the development of national policies and strategies about including fathers, he co-authored the ‘Developing Men Friendly Organisations’ accredited training course which has been taken up by managers, policy makers and practitioners in organisations all over the UK. Since his 'retirement' he is still in great demand to advise public sector organisations and speak at conferences. He also continues to write about fatherhood.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Blagdon Hall

Blagdon Hall near Stannington, Northumberland is the home of the Ridley family. It is set in stunning gardens which were landscaped by Capability Brown who was born not far away. The Hall is not open to the public but occassionally the family allow access in order to support a particular charity. We are very grateful that they allowed Children North East to use the grounds for the first time last Saturday. We invited families from far and wide to come and enjoy the grounds and celebrate our 120th birthday.

It was a cracking day, everyone who came enjoyed themselves and there was plenty for the children to do too including refreshments organised by Jaspers catering company and entertainment from a dance school. There was a birthday cake to cut and share and we all sang Happy Birthday. Our Families Plus staff organised everything with their customary attention to detail and care of children uppermost in everyone's minds.

It was a shame the sunny hot weather of the previous day did not last into Saturday when it was windy and cold which I suspect put people off coming. Never mind though it was a good day. Everyone was happy including the Ridley family who thought it very well organised. So we hope we might be invited back again next year. Perhaps a Sunday might be better, may be even Father's Day and ask all the children in the region to bring their Dads? Now that would be an occassion!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

‘Poor Child’

BBC 1 TV showed this documentary late on Tuesday 7th June, it can still be viewed on iplayer. This moving programme followed four children living in poor families in Glasgow, Bradford and Leicester. The programme showed the child’s view of growing up in poverty as they spoke eloquently about their lives. A blog by the progamme’s producer has sparked the largest number of comments ever about a BBC programme, which can be read here:

What moved me was how large the shortage of money figured in the children's view of the world. They understood household finances in detail, how precarious it was and how every purchase had to be finely balanced against every other expense. My own children's knowledge of family finances would be minimal by comparison.

It also struck me how slowly and carefully the children ate. Poor families frequently skip meals, the children said they only got dinner at school (free school meals) but not in the school holidays. It is no surpirse then that they appreciated what little food they had and made it last.

On a similar note Save the Children have recently published a 10 page report about children’s (mainly teenagers) views of poverty which is available online at:

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Jubilee People's Millions

Our proposal for a Young People’s Community Cafe at WEYES has been shotlisted for the Jubilee People’s Millions. Young People, staff and young people at WEYES have worked with Tyne Tees TV to produce a short appeal which will be televised on Monday 27th June. It will appear 'head to head' alongside an appeal for a scheme in Knaresborough to help elderly people with their shopping. Then the public get to vote by phone and the project with the most votes gets the money. You can read about both projects and how it works on the Jubilee Peoples Millions website:
 Our appeal is for £60,000 to set up a cafe in the existing large kitchen area at WEYES. The cafe will provide work experience for young people in food preparation, food hygiene and service skills. During the week it will be open for young people. But at weekends we will open it to the whole community so building bridges between the generations.

We need as many people as possible to vote for us on Monday 27th June (we think we need at least 60,000 votes!). Please show your support by sharing it on Facebook: You can also email and we will send you the phone number to vote for us when it is published on 27th June.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Bigger Picture

For some years Children North East has held an annual conference for staff, volunteers and Trustees which we call 'The Bigger Picture'. It is the only opportunity to get the whole organisation together once a year to celebrate the previous year and think about the coming one. It is a major chance for us all to work on common issues and for me to set out what I think we need to focus on in the coming 12 months. I put a lot of work into each Bigger Picture to set just the right tone.

This year's Bigger Picture took place last Thursday and judging by the evaluation forms that were completed at the end many people thought it was the best ever. I was particularly pleased that 9 of our 12 Trustees came for part of the day.

Of course it has been a very difficult year so I wanted to showcase and acknowledge every project's achievements. We could not ignore the 120th anniversary either with a fascinating and absorbing account of life for street children in Newcastle in 1891 by one of our newer Trustees who has taken an interest in researching this. But more important I wanted to show how the whole organisation contributes has a common identity and contributes to a common purpose. We did this by redefining the values of the organisation and in my address when I showed how each project contibutes to improving the lives of poorer children in our region.

More about this in future blogs - it will be a major theme for the coming months.