Our Creative Engagement Officer Kate, spoke to Jon Niblo about his work as Chief Executive Officer for NE Youth, which is the North East’s leading youth development charity, supporting young people and youth organisations in the communities where they live, learn and work. Highlights has worked recently with NE Youth support workers at Shilbottle Community Hall.
K: Hi Jon Could you tell me a little about your background in working with CYP and your role with NE Youth?
I’ve been involved in the Youth sector for 25 years. I started off as a volunteer and Youth worker. I was fortunate enough to be offered a place on the Durham University Youth and Community Work Studies degree. My first full time role was working for Stockton Borough Council Youth Service as a detached Youth worker and I then moved to Gateshead Council, working on a number of different projects and programmes. Since then my work has been as a practitioner and youth work Manager at Durham County Council, until becoming CEO for NE Youth 12 years ago. Formerly Northumberland Boys Club and part of that national network, we are now more of a regional organisation, having rebranded 6 years ago.
We have a dual function within the sector – an infrastructure role and membership offer, as well as working collaboratively with the North East Youth Alliance and we also deliver directly to the youth sector, through different programmes.
K: Can you tell me what NE Youth is focusing on, post COVID restrictions being lifted and how has this impacted your work with youth organisations and communities?
Covid was a difficult period for everyone, including the charitable sector and the youth voluntary sector. We very quickly established an online offer for young people but once restrictions started to lift, we were able to re-engage with young people, using outreach and detached youth work methods in the community. So essentially, we’ve been able to work throughout but post – Covid it’s been important to get projects up and running as swiftly as possible and work collaboratively. Particularly for us, where we have building based provision and centre-based youth clubs, we’ve worked with the custodians of those spaces, to get the doors open and support them, to get young people reconnected.
We’ve engaged with a couple of research programmes, in particular ‘youth in lockdown’, led by Dr Stef Scott at Newcastle University and we’ve learnt a lot from that consultation project with young people. There are particular issues around mental health and we want young people who are struggling to have the support that they need. We know that transition and employment are issues and we’re working with projects and programmes that particularly support young people in those areas. We also want to support young peoples’ pathways into further education and training with our own projects. We’ve led on the Kick Start scheme within the North East youth sector and created 27 vacancies and opportunities across our membership network, which is a positive move.
K: Highlights offers a range of Arts based workshops led by artists touring with us and local facilitators, which I’ve been talking to you about recently (at the Durham Youth Network meeting). Our work with community youth groups overlaps with some of the work NE Youth does rurally. What do you feel are the main challenges we face, in our large Northern Counties, in connecting with young people rurally?
The challenges of working in rural communities with young people has always been an issue but we have to keep talking to young people and communities, to understand these issues better – and to identify the right sorts of funding and resources to get into those communities, to make those services accessible. I know from my own experience of working in some particularly rural communities in Durham, that the support required is different.
K: Do you think organisations such as Highlights Rural Touring Scheme and NE Youth can do more in our networks, to signpost young people towards community-based projects that could lead them towards inspiring and challenging opportunities?
We need to keep talking to young people, to create the best possible offers we can and keep learning ourselves, supporting our staff and being ambitious for young people, so that they know there is the support available and that there are opportunities for them.
You can read more about NE Youth’s work here.