On Monday 22 September, officially the last day of summer, I accompanied LandAid chairman Robin Broadhurst on a visit to an unusually sunny North East, to see first-hand the positive changes that LandAid funding has brought to two Newcastle projects.
First on the day’s agenda was a trip to the YMCA in Walker, where Robin had been invited to officially open a refurbished premises on Welbeck Road.
Of Newcastle’s twenty six wards, Walker is the most disadvantaged. Despite being a stone’s throw from the River Tyne and the heavily modernised Quayside, Walker continues to suffer from long term economic decline. The short drive east from Newcastle’s affluent city centre on Monday morning certainly painted a bleak picture of an economically-segregated city. And with Newcastle City Council facing £100 million in government cuts over three years, prosperity seems a long way off.
On Monday, however, spirits at the YMCA were high. It was the opening day of the refurbishment at 592 Welbeck Road and staff and young people alike had gathered to watch our chairman cut the red tape.
Thanks to £50,000 of LandAid funding, the building has been transformed into a bright, modern, functional youth centre. A new art studio, computer space and counselling room will enable the expansion of the YMCA’s Alternative Education programme, a scheme set up to support young people who have been excluded from permanent education.
Jeff Hurst, Chief Executive of Newcastle YMCA, was our host for the day, and explained to us the magnitude of issues faced by young people in the area.
Today, many of Walker’s residents have poor health, unemployment is high and qualifications and skills are low. Worryingly, violent crime is on the rise, as is suicide amongst young men. I was staggered to learn that a man born and bred in Walker has a life expectancy that is 13 years less than that of a man brought up in Jesmond or Gosforth… just six miles down the road. The statistics are stark.
With the bright lights of London a long way away and government cuts continuing to bite, it is easy to see why young people in Walker feel let down by their country. Yet it's in places such as these that LandAid's investment can have a real impact. At Newcastle YMCA, LandAid's capital support is going further than bricks and mortar. It's giving young people an opportunity to learn, be safe and build a future and above all it's showing them that their needs have not been forgotten.
A big thank you to Jeff and all of the team at Newcastle YMCA for hosting such an interesting and inspiring visit.