A popular Newcastle community centre experiencing a surge in young people needing its services as well as rocketing energy bills, has secured a financial lifeline to support its hugely important work.
Fenham Community Centre supports up to 200 young people each week with homework, social activities, friendship groups and accessing technology which they may not have at home, and has youth workers offering support and guidance to those who ask for it.
What started as a young person’s educational initiative for 5-19 year olds after school and at weekends has grown in popularity week on week, with added support now coming from The Bernicia Foundation which recently donated £10,000 to the centre.
Youth workers have supported 87 young people aged 11-19 with their exams, coursework and studies, helping all of them progress their education including five going onto A-Levels, college and further training courses.
The centre, run by the Fenham Association of Residents (FAR), is in an area of major social and economic disadvantage and has seen its own energy bills soar from £79 to a staggering £800 per month in the space of just a year.
However, with news that UK families are set to face the most difficult two years ahead, and disposable income (UK households) set to drop by 7.1% – the lowest level since records began taking incomes back down to 2013 levels, the fight for local community groups like FAR to keep young people engaged, especially after-school, is significant.
Fenham Association of Residents’ Centre Manager, Mark Gowland, explained, “We have very serious challenges ahead as a community but our prime objective, first and foremost, is to not allow the young people coming to our centre to ‘drop off’ or feel excluded through no fault of their own or their family, and lose the ambitions they now have for their future.
“We have seen many who were once disillusioned at some point with school now back fully engaged in their education, passing their GSCEs and entering into further education with their goals being realised, so we cannot allow that to be lost within the worsening cost of living crisis.
“Some of the work we do is very targeted, helping primary and secondary schools pupils (and those older) to revise and work towards exams, learn practical skills or maybe talk through any anxieties they may be having about school if needed. We’re an extension of school in a way but a lot less formal, and the eight sessions we hold each week are always busy.
“These are run by our volunteers and youth workers, and the kids love it so donations like that from The Bernicia Foundation are a lifeline. We need to keep enabling and encouraging these bright, motivated, brilliant young people to continue with their education and realise their potential, but simply put, we are now under huge financial pressure and need all the help we can get.”
Like other charities and community groups across the region and the UK, FAR has seen energy bills soar by an eye watering 913% in 12 months. This is also having a major knock-on effect as many people now rely on community centres like Fenham as a place to go given they cannot afford rising bills.
Mark added, “We’re typically a low income area and in the top 10% for multiple deprivation which means our community has more low income households than other areas in the country, but we’re also disadvantaged with less resources.“We’ve seen many social spaces shut or public services being reduced and it has had a massive impact on residents. Many children come here from disadvantaged homes or have parents working unsociable hours through necessity, but we’ve also seen the number of young people at our sessions on free school meals more than double this year. That is only going to get higher and it’s a very stark and alarming reality check of what is yet to come.
One person attending the educational sessions at Fenham Community Centre is school pupil, Erin Thomas (13), who has been supported by youth workers in the project, focusing on her studies, development and learning.
She said, “I come to FAR most nights when it’s open. It’s a good place to come, especially to see my friends and try out new things. The youth workers have helped me a lot with my homework and exams, and they’ve also encouraged me to learn new stuff too. Since coming here, I’ve also become more involved in other activities too and I now volunteer helping other people in the community.”
Jenny Allinson, Director of The Bernicia Foundation, added, “Mark and the team at FAR are doing tremendous work for young people in Newcastle despite navigating an extremely difficult set of circumstances. They, like a lot of North East charities, are coming under huge pressure never experienced before so to keep looking forward with determination, putting the education and ambition of local children and young adults at the very heart of their work, is incredible. They could make the difference for someone at a vulnerable or impressionable time of their life, unsure of which route to take or possibly becoming disassociated, so we are 100% behind them.
“That goes out to other local community groups, charities and talented young people pursuing personal goals too. We have now donated £750,000 to 101 North East community intiatives so far, and our final round of funding for 2022 is now open, so I would urge anyone needing support to apply as soon as they can before it closes at midnight on Thursday 22 December.”
The Bernicia Foundation is a charitable trust set up by North East housing association, Bernicia Group, to help direct funds where they are most needed – supporting local people living in hard-working communities across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and Teesside.
Two funding streams are available – the inclusion fund for voluntary/community groups, registered charities and social enterprises which awards up to £10,000, and the inspiration fund, awarding up to £1,000 for young people, aged 24 years and under, who are actively working towards personal goals.
For more details on the application process, go to www.berniciafoundation.com
- Pupils Erin Thomas (left), Ellieann McDonnell (centre) and Mark Gowland (right)
Media contact: Sheena Griffiths – firstname.lastname@example.org or 01670 338390
 Independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – lowest levels since records began in 1956/7