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CEO’s Thoughts (February Newsletter)

28 February 2022

Welcome to our February newsletter.

I was really thrilled to be able to join some of our young people at Reading Football Club’s 150th anniversary match earlier this month – read more here.

I have been feeling deeply concerned after it was confirmed that the government’s levelling up plans exclude young people living in most of Berkshire’s towns and villages.

The government has committed £560m of funding as it recognises the importance of providing young people with a safe space to engage in positive activities outside of school, and access to youth services. However, most of Berkshire’s young people will not be helped through this funding, with only projects based in Slough and the wards of Church, Norcot, Southcote and Whitley in Reading eligible to apply. In fact, due to significant demand, BBC Children in Need (who are distributing the first phase of the Youth Investment Fund on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) has already closed for applications.

I’ve written previously about my deep concern that Berkshire would be excluded from much of this long overdue investment. Whilst we welcome any funding for youth services, a sector which has been decimated by funding cuts over many years, I wonder why the vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in our county have been overlooked in the government’s levelling up plans. There are pockets of deprivation across Berkshire, not in just certain parts of Reading and Slough. I have seen first-hand how welcomed and needed Waterside Centre has been in West Berkshire, an area traditionally thought to be affluent and not in need of such support. I also know of the many years of struggling and fundraising we have had to put in to renovate and reopen this youth and community centre.

We have seen a sharp increase in demand for our support, especially since the pandemic hit, yet we are unable to apply for funding which is being focused by geography rather than need. Our current generation of young people is being let down by a lack of provision at a time when we know young people need us more than at any point in our charity’s 80+ years history. We agree with Michael Gove that “Every young person should have access to the kinds of life-changing activities which expand your horizons and arm you with vital life skills”, but ask why that doesn’t apply to those in Berkshire as it does in Birmingham or Bolton. We want these opportunities to be available to our local young people too, no matter where they live or what their background; why do our local young people have to miss out?!

I welcome the recognition of the positive impact out-of-school activities have on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. I am also glad that DofE provision will be extended to every state secondary school, a programme which we are proud to run and support at Berkshire Youth. I do worry about the added pressure this will add to local schools, however, which I know are already overwhelmed by their workloads. I would love to see some of the investment into the national organisation, NCS (National Citizen Service), instead invested more locally. There is very little opportunity for local organisations to become local providers for this scheme and the numbers of young people engaging with this in Berkshire are very unambitious.

It’s great that we are now talking about young people and how best to invest in them and their futures, not just for their own sake, but for society as a whole. I still think we’re not being ambitious enough though, and there remains no national strategy nor framework for youth work. Everyone at Berkshire Youth will continue to provide a voice for local young people and to fight for what we know Berkshire’s young people deserve – they only have one chance at young adulthood, and they need our support and investment now!

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