A Short Account of a Long History of Gateshead Youth Council
The Youth Council charts its history and its ‘birthday’ from the appointment of its first full-time co-ordinator. However, things are never clear-cut and this is certainly true of the early history of the organisation.
In 1974 the reorganisation of local authority boundaries saw a vast swathe of County Durham to the west and south of Gateshead amalgamated into the new Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council. Two ‘Youth Councils’ existed at this time, receiving grant aid that enabled them to employ part-time organisers to support their work. They were Gateshead Youth Leaders Council (disbanded on 16thOctober 1978) and Blaydon Youth Organisations Council. Essentially both organisations offered a mechanism to run inter-club activities and competitive sporting events.
With the disbandment of Youth Leaders Council a new organisation, known at this time as Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Youth Council (a name which it adopted for about a year) came into being. Its first chairperson was Ray Hughes, its bank balance stood at £15.70 in June 1978 and was held in the Midland Bank on Durham Road.
The organisation had an Executive Committee. Two of its members at this time were Nick Pearse and Pete Stout, both of whom went on to become Principal Youth Officers in Gateshead.
There were three major highlights in 1979. The first was the ‘Day in the Park’ event, which attracted over 600 young people. The second was the arrival of a grant aid cheque for £825.00 and finally funding was made available to appoint a full-time co-ordinator for the Youth Council through Inner Cities Partnership funding.
The organisation held its first AGM on 26th March 1979 under the name of Gateshead Borough Youth Organisations Council (GBYOC). The Executive Committee proposed the following programme of activities for 1979/80:-
- Youth Fortnight (actually a week long event which took place between 7th – 14th July)
- Inter-town Sports Meeting (Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside)
- Inter-club events
- Swimming Gala
- 11 a side Football
- 5 a side Football
- Guest Speakers
- ‘WOR-DAY’ (which had began in 1976)
- White Rose Walk (36 miles in 4 sections)
WOR-DAY, for which GBYOC was to take an increasingly important lead role, was held on 23rd June 1979 and included a Rock Band competition, Bogey Races, Side shows and ‘Disco’ music!
On 19th September 1979, Harry Matthews took up his appointment as the Youth Council’s first full-time funded co-ordinator, and the organisation was given the impetus to take it into the 1980’s.
Harry Matthew’s appointment had an important and immediate effect on the organisation and its future direction. On 8th January 1980 a Senior Members/Helpers Training Course began. There had been 40 applicants and 23 young people successfully completed the course when it ended in April.
Other highlights of 1980 were the staging of a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme Seminar, first mention of the organisation sponsoring a STEP Scheme (Special Temporary Employment Programme), and the purchase of a mini-bus through the Inner Cities Partnership Funding Scheme.
On a down beat note the Local Authority announced a number of Public Expenditure Cuts which resulted in a 10% reduction in grant aid and part-time workers working weeks being reduced to 40 weeks per year. To put things into perspective the Youth Council received a reduced grant aid allocation of £1,183 while the Gateshead Battalion of the Boys Brigade received £12.00 (or less than 25p per week?). However ‘Wor-day’ raised over £300.
During 1981 the Co-ordinator and Management Committee began to explore charitable status. Then as now, the organisation continuously sought out new funding streams with which to develop its projects and activities, charitable status offered another opportunity. It was proposed that the organisation also make an application to the 82/83 round of Inner Area Partnership funding for an ‘Advice and Information Centre’.
Reading through the organisations Executive Committee’s minutes one gets a constant glimpse of ‘things to come’. For example the minutes for 28th April 1982 read. ‘The possibility of establishing a ‘Community Transport’ fleet administered by the Youth Council and GVOC appeared to have been well received’, and in the minutes of the 7th July 1982 we get the first mention of establishing a ‘Community Education Team’. In June of the same year Gateshead Youth Forum is established and the Youth Council received its charitable status. As the year came to an end a Community Employment Programme (CEP) came into being, employing 10 people and administered by the Youth Council. By April 1983 this number had risen to 26 trainee workers.
The Youth Council has a reputation as a campaigning organisation, one that is richly deserved. Early in 1983 the Youth Council initiated an event to look at a Youth Services Review. Representatives from over 100 youth organisations took part. Harry Matthews played a major role in organising the event. However, this was one of his last acts as co-ordinator, as on 27th April he announced he would be leaving the organisation to take up a new position in Newcastle.
On 4th July Kevin Robson took the position as Temporary Youth Council Co-ordinator.
Gateshead Youth Forum was formerly recognised by the Local Authority when it received grant aid of £840. In October 1983 Andy Merrill is welcomed as a member to the Executive Committee. Prior to this he had been Secretary of the Under 14 Football League. By the end of the year a Youth Council newsletter ‘Youth Scene’ was distributed to 250 groups.
The mid 80’s saw the organisation continue to expand and widen its remit and workload. Much of this can be attributed to the number of staff employed through the CEP Scheme and into to the organisation itself. Just as well, ‘Wor-Day’ attracted over 10,000 people and warranted extra buses being put on by the P.T.E.
Kevin Robson left the organisation and Tony Leonard, the CEP Manager, assumed the duties of co-ordinator until the appointment of Andy Merrill who started his stint in the ‘hot-seat’ on 20thAugust 1984.
The Youth Council initiated a number of activities during November and December as ‘Opportunities for Girls’.
1985 was designated International Youth Year by the United Nations. Its 3 key themes were Participation, Development and Peace. An IYY committee was established to oversee a range of activities and events. The Youth Council affiliated to the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) and began a long association, which continues to this day!
Highlights during 1985 also included the development of the Young Volunteers Project and Youth Enquiry Service. ‘Wor-Day’ attracted over 14,000 people.
The following year was a mixture of ups and downs for the organisation. A Questionnaire was sent out to all affiliated organisations, with 54% responding. This identified what groups wanted out of their association with the Youth Council. Three key elements were identified as:
- ‘a good information service’
- ‘an equipment loan bank’
- ‘training provision’
Ray Hughes, who as chairperson had steered the organisation through its formative years stood down and was replaced by Alan Cartwright. The Co-ordinator’s position, which had been financially supported through IAP funds to this point, was now taken into mainstream funding by the Local Authority. Numbers dropped at ‘Wor-Day’ to below 10,000 as the event coincided with the Tall Ships Race.
1987 was an important year for the Youth Council. Wor-Day had become a monster, putting increased pressure on the organisation and its entire staff. This year was the biggest event yet with over 70 stalls, a street parade and over 16,000 people attending Saltwell Park. It had in all honesty become a victim of its own success, capacity had been surpassed, but at what price, it was taking almost a year to organise and placing a great strain on the co-ordinator.
In September 1988 a report of a review of the Youth Council was published. Its authors were Roger Cartlidge and Eileen Meek of the Department of Adult and Continuing Education of the University of Durham. Researched between January and July it also coincided with an internal review by the co-ordinator. Both reviews came to similar conclusions. Essentially the new Employment Training Programme which the Government were introducing to replace the CEP schemes would not pay a rate for the job with workers being paid benefit plus £10. It was considered to be ‘impossible both practically and financially’. However, the Young Volunteer Project would be incorporated into the ET Programme. As a result of all this, the reductions in staffing would also mean an end to the equipment loan service, involvement in sports and events and a cut in transport provision. Everything was being compounded by a lack of finances, resources and staff. However, and also as a result of the Durham University review, the Executive Committee decided to create a forum for young adults (16 – 25 years), improve its information service, develop its commitment to training and support the Young Volunteer Project.
In the midst of all these changes Andy Merrill left the Youth Council in August 1989, not long after a new clerk/administrator had been appointed.
Following Andy Merrill’s departure, Peter Jennings stood in as a Temporary Leader-in-Charge until the appointment of a new Temporary Co-ordinator was made. Anne-Marie Quigley had been involved for a while when she got the position.
In January 1990 Lynne Dixon joined the organisation as administrator. Lynne has been a stalwart since that date. The Senior Members Course, aimed at 14 – 16 year olds began in May. Other courses included British Sign Language, Literacy and Numeracy, the Community Sports Leaders Award and ‘Wider Opportunities for Women’.
On 7th January 1991 Terry Eccles took up the post of co-ordinator. The following month, the executive committee took the decision to close the ET scheme following changes in Government legislation.
The decision had one major positive effect on the organisation, a healthy bank balance. Terry’s presence had an immediate effect on the direction of the organisation. Projects aimed at young people were developed. The Young Reporters Project and the Young Peoples HIV Project are excellent examples of this. To quote Terry at that time :–
“The Youth Council is not just an office, it’s a resource which responds actively to the changing needs of young people”.
Local Authority representative Councillor Bill Dick who wrote ‘One of the main attractions of the Youth Council is in actively encouraging young people to identify their needs and to assist them in organising themselves’ also echoes this sentiment.
During Easter 1993 a major exchange took place to Toulouse in France. Two of the organisations visited, and which would have a great influence on the future direction of the organisation, were Les Conseils “MUNICIPAUX” D’Enfant ET de Jennes (Youth Council) and Information Jeunesse (Youth Information).
Following this exchange there was a burst of activity within the organisation. A Gateshead Information Group was established, young people attended a Youth Parliament day, there were quite a number of residential events, forums were established in Birtley, Bensham and Swalwell, and Update went to publication.
Early in 1994 the Members Action Course began. This began as a Peer Education Course with young people tutoring other young people. Its ten weekly sessions were aimed at developing young people’s skills base.
The Information Group had identified the need for a one-stop shop for young people and a location with the MetroCentre was decided upon. Throughout 1995 much time was spent developing the idea. Infolders came into being and are still a major area of development as I write. It was also in or around 1995 that the idea of developing and marketing the Under 26 Card and linking it to the Youth Information Shop came about.
This was a stroke of genius as it later led directly to the development of the Youth Information Shop as a Eurodesk access point.
On 29th April 1996 Adrian Brown joined the organisation as Assistant Co-ordinator, as the development of the Youth Information Shop was taking about 90% of the Co-ordinator’s workload. Later in the year the organisation received a cheque for £191,000 from the National Lottery Charities Board. This was a major boost, but unfortunately nowhere near the amount needed to actually open the Youth Information Shop. Terry was to spend much of the following two years developing a partnership group with Gateshead Council, Tyneside Careers and the Church Commissioners/Capital Shopping Centres. Other partners drawn into the venture were BT, Tyneside TEC, Fijitsu/ICL, the Princes Trust and Marks & Spencer.
The Youth Council pulled in funding from the Health Authority to develop an Alcohol Awareness Peer Project, offering a 10-week course to a number of youth projects.
It might be useful to give a snapshot of some of the other areas of work the organisation was involved in during this period. In 1996 8 students did placements within the Youth Council and Youth Council staff took a lead in co-ordinating a wide range of activities for young people from Dominica who came to Gateshead for a week prior to attending the Commonwealth Youth Forum, in Edinburgh.
From the mid 90’s the Youth Council was tasked with taking a lead role in co-ordinating activities on behalf of the Community Education Service for National Youth Work Week.
An over-riding memories is around an event organised for 6th November 1997 - the function suite at Gateshead Civic Centre had been booked to stage a ‘Market Place’ event. On the morning of the event replies had been received indicating that about 120 young people would be attending. It’s true to say that all our collective jaws dropped when the doors opened that evening and a tidal wave of over four hundred young people flooded in. It was later written in the annual report ‘who would ever have thought that the biggest Youth Club session in the Borough would have taken place in the Civic Centre. Another first…..’
1998 was another defining year for the Youth Council. On 29th August the Youth Information Shop officially opened its doors for the first time. In its first four months up to Christmas it had over 8,000 visitors. Terry wrote ‘The dream became a reality and turned out to be better than the dream'’
As the decade came to an end the Youth Council celebrated its 21st birthday and the organisation became even more involved in the development of youth participation than ever before. In September 1999 a Youth Assembly Development Group was established. The task of the 17 young people in the group was to develop a structure and mechanism for the establishment of an elected Youth Assembly, supported through the Youth Council by the Community Education Service and Gateshead Council.