Friday, 29 August 2014

After 44 years, NOW it's my turn!

As you know, I finish work today after a wonderful week of celebration and great kindness and generosity from everyone for which I am extremely grateful.

The week started well because on Tuesday the Pqasso assessor made her inspection of us, and after a series of interviews with staff and Trustees has recommended Surrey Youth Focus for the Level 1 Pqasso Award, which is great news. We had a “clear round” with no referrals back at all.

Pqasso is the only QA award recognised by the Charity Commission and, assuming the recommendation is confirmed,  we should therefore receive a double award from both the Charity Commission and the Charities Evaluation Service.

On Wednesday my wonderful team organised a (home–made) cakes and coffee open house session for SYF Member s and colleagues, and yesterday there was a formal lunch at County Hall hosted by the Chairman of the County Council, David Munro, who is a Patron of ours. Each occasion was really lovely and I enjoyed them both completely.

I have received generous gifts of a teak garden bench with a commemorative plaque on it, and an inscribed decanter from the Chairman of the County Council. The Team have given me a Book of Memories, being an album of photographs and kind words from colleagues.  Thank you all.

Julian of Norwich is one of my favourite spiritual writers and, for the pub quiz addicts, the first ever female author to be published – “Revelations of Divine Love”, 1395 ish.

Her famous saying, borne out of a deeply rooted confidence, was that “All shall be well”…..I share that confidence in the future of Surrey Youth Focus, and wish you all every success. 

Friday, 22 August 2014

526th & Last Payslip - Beer & Skittles Soon!

Well I have received my 526th and last monthly payslip, and that must be significant, along with the fact that my successor Cate Newnes – Smith has now started here as part of our pre-arranged handover arrangements. Last Blog next week. 
Very few people in future will work for big organisations as an employee for 44 years (hence the number of payslips) and it’s interesting to see the contemporary growth in self-employment. I see constant articles about how young people today (in teens and early 20s ) aspire to becoming entrepreneurs, and I think this is just brilliant.

I had lunch in a Lebanese restaurant in Woking this with week with the entrepreneur behind Surrey Youth Enterprise, the social enterprise we set up, and of which I will continue to be a director, but will be entirely detached from SYF in future.  The CiC has stalled a bit,  but there are good prospects, and it’s a very interesting project.

We concluded our work for Healthwatch about the health needs and priorities of young people and have submitted the draft report to our client who is very pleased with it. The report will be published in the next couple of weeks, and will be quite challenging to education and health/social care services. Watch this space.

We also have concluded our first year’s report on our CommUniLAB project which we are sending to our principal sponsor and project champions, Barclays Bank, and hope to sustain our relationship with them.

Next week is my last after 44 years of working and there is just one more hurdle, namely to present Surrey Youth Focus to our external assessor for the PQASSO (quality assurance)  assessment on Tuesday. After that it’s beer and skittles jollies – my lovely team have arranged a coffee and cake bash next Wednesday here at Astolat ..thinly  disguised as a Team Meeting, and then the Chairman of the County Council is very kindly hosting a  lunch for me on Thursday. Then at 12.01 next Friday, I’m gone!

I hope it’s self-evident that I greatly enjoy working for Surrey Youth Focus, and indeed for the three local authorities before that, including Surrey County Council. I have been fortunate…blessed in my career.  The work, particularly over the last 7 years,  has enabled me to learn so much  - about the fantastic work of the voluntary sector, social enterprise, governance, consortia, CommUniLAB, and young people. Working for SYF also enabled me to have the opportunity to obtain my MA Theology; it cost a domestically controversial £4,000, so I had to keep my nose the grindstone!

SO there I was last Sunday walking a difficult 23 miles on the South Downs with my full “Spanish rucksack”…. into a strong wind, miles from anywhere…musing with nature…at one with the world...composing sermons in my head…when round a corner on his mountain bike comes Ian Burks (CEO of Redhill YMCA) on a 100 mile sponsored cycle ride for his YMCA…cycling the whole of the South Downs (Winchester to Eastbourne) in one day! He and friends had started at 5.00 am in Winchester, and when we met he was well on the way. Yet another example of great commitment to the cause of fundraising to help young people.(But he did have the wind behind him!)

Best wishes to all BLOG readers…last one next week!!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Carpe Diem

This has been a week dominated by concerns about the health and well being of young people. We are undertaking research for Healthwatch (NHS consumer champions) into the experiences of young people with the NHS. I am writing up the report now following 210 responses to a quite detailed questionnaire, and having run two focus groups with young people. It is clear that generally the NHS provides a good service to young people, and in the main they are treated respectfully as would an adult be. The big deficit is in provision of mental health services. Young people said there is a chain of causation from the widespread bullying in school (including cyberbullying) leading to…not going out…loneliness..depression..self-harming…A&E. Hopefully the report will have some impact in securing change.

This has been A level week for many young people: congratulations to those who have done well, and those who are disappointed should always remember there are other paths to take, but whatever the result “seize the day!”

Interesting IPPR report this week on youth unemployment pointing to mismatches between what young people are training for and what employers want. The argument is a familiar one – and it is about how we undervalue vocational education in this country. The report says that there is a striking mismatch between what young people are training for and the types of jobs available. For example, it says, 94,000 people were trained in beauty and hair for just 18,000 jobs, while only 123,000 were trained in the construction and engineering sectors for an advertised 275,000 jobs. The IPPR says youth unemployment is lower in countries where the vocational route into employment through formal education and training is as clear as the academic route. Here is the link:

So I am delighted that we have a leader in promoting vocational education, the Vice-Principal of Guildford FE College, as one of our Trustees and I had a great meeting/induction session with her this week.

The Carpe Diem is of course a reference back to Robin Williams who sadly died this week and to his brilliant films, such as Dead Poets Society,  and to his superb acting/characterisations, though troubled by personal mental health issues throughout his life.

For my part I’m off to walk 44 miles in 2 days this weekend on the South Downs, being my training track and with an overnight in a pub. This is my last full test of myself and my kit before going off to France initially to walk the Camino Santiago, some 500 miles from St Jean des Pieds to Santiago de Compostela in Spain….making my life extraordinary too.   So this means that I must be retiring…soon.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Of bondage and birth!

No, silly, not that sort of bondage…the Peterborough Prison social impact bond (sib) first results were reported this week, showing that the efforts of the charities working with the first cohort of 1,000 prisoners before leaving gaol has resulted in an 8% reduction in re-offending.

This does not seem like much for 2 years work, and whilst the ever growing social finance market is claiming this as a success, the fact is that the investors won’t be repaid yet as re-offending rates were supposed to drop by 10% to trigger payments to investors by the Ministry of Justice. All depends on achieving a higher rate of reductions by 2016  to hit the 10% average target.

Meanwhile Worcestershire CC  have embarked on a bond to enable working with older people. See:

It has been a great week with interesting meetings seeing the “re-birth” and birth of new ideas.

The “re-birth” was with Surrey CC Property re-opening discussions about the possibility of us taking over the running of the Woking Youth Arts Centre and was a very positive discussion..what a pity we hadn’t had this type of “what are we trying to achieve here?” discussion at the start. Live and learn.

The second was again with Surrey CC colleagues and hugely promising about whether we could collaborate together to link our exciting CommUniLAB project with SCC’s intentions to commission a time bank and youth social action projects. We have already been working on a Youth Social Action conference on Sat. 15 November with a main speaker from the Demos think tank. We have agreed to meet again, or rather for my successor to do so. A great opportunity to make a difference.

We held our first Healthwatch focus group with young people this week about their experience of the NHS and preferred priorities. The experiences of GP and A&E services were generally positive, but with criticism of orthodontic services, delays in A&E and some GO receptionist - much better in dentist services which were praised. Bullying, in its many forms came up yet again. There is something about resilience that is important here.
And finally, in the week when Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond have been debating Scotland’s independence, another Anglo – Scottish event was taking place in London that has resulted in the birth yesterday of our fourth grandchild..a boy. He doesn’t yet have a name as there are delicate discussions going on between very English son and very Scottish daughter-in–law, and both are lawyers….so it may take some time yet. But you can guess where my wife and I will be this week-end !

Mike (PS Loving the cricket by the way)

Friday, 1 August 2014

On Philanthropy

I am constantly delighted by how many ordinary people commit themselves to good works, so this week in a private capacity I had an evening meeting with two people wanting to set up a social enterprise to nurture and develop the ability of young people to determine career pathways and to present themselves effectively at interview. Then I had a brilliant meeting yesterday afternoon (on leave) with a Christian Aid organiser who was inspirational in his life story and his vision…building links to business through linked projects in the UK and overseas. Today I read the superb Surrey Interfaith News produced by Guildford Diocese that describes so many positive activities. The word “Philanthropy” comes from the Greek – Philos Anthropos..lover of humanity, and at a time of so much troubling news internationally it is good to see and hear such positive stories.

We had good news this week that our Pqasso Desktop submission has passed its review stage and so the external assessor is indeed coming along on 26 August to make her site visit, which is encouraging.

Much of the week has been take up with preparing comments on Surrey CC’s RE-commissioning paperCreating opportunities for young people”. There has been a highly commendable, open and inclusive process of developing this paper and the associated commissions.

However, we have reservations about the focus on Employability as the strategic aim of the commissions – do parents say their hope for their children is that they should be “employable”? Do young people say that? Or do they say they want to be happy and healthy ..have positive relationships with a partner, with friends and in community? There is no denying the importance of employability but there are surely a host of personal attitudes, behaviours and skills that take precedence? The potential to be employable follows on from the acquisition of various personal characteristics.

So the young teenagers I met years ago in Stanwell who said they had nothing to do, but would not go to Staines (too far) and had never been to Central London had a self-limiting horizon that had to be addressed before thinking about skills and training.   I know that other organisations have made similar points. Our comments will be up on the website next week for all to see.

August is my “get fit/lose weight month”; I need only lose another 2lbs (1 kilo  for modernists) before hitting my target weight, so that should be OK. Little 4 hour speed walk on the South Downs tomorrow the rain I think and with the weight of full “Spanish rucksack”. I’m now applying  surgical spirit on my feet everyday now to dry them out and harden them..hmm..maybe too much information! Enjoy!