Monday, 24 November 2014


I am feeling a little delicate today as a close family member was taken ill and underwent emergency surgery at the weekend. He is making good progress but not out of the woods yet. It is times like this, though, that remind me to focus on the important things in life. I am giving myself permission to not be at peak performance, to work a little slower, to prioritise the most important tasks and to give time to those in my life who need it today. So this blog will be short and sweet.

On the positive side we are making great progress on Communilab, the online forum that will bring together third sector organisations, universities, colleges, schools, local authorities, other statutory bodies and businesses to share perspectives and generate action both to help solve issues affecting young people and to create new opportunities for young people in Surrey. We have some exciting announcements to make soon about new funding partners and we hope to have the forum ready in Q1 2015.  

Monday, 17 November 2014

Self-harming and trolling

I was very disturbed to hear the opinions of a GP this week who said how common self-harming is these days. Among some young people it is like a badge, proving that you really are upset. If you haven’t self-harmed, your issues really aren’t that significant. In other words, if you want to get attention from your friends for something going on in your life, best that you get find yourself a knife and start cutting.  

I was also disturbed to read more about internet trolling. It is, of course, devastating to the lives of those on the receiving end and we all want to help them. However, it is also worrying how it can have a bad effect on the trolls themselves. Why should they get our sympathy, I hear you ask? Well the problem is that it is just too easy for anybody to get on the internet and start making comments. 

Isabella Sorley, age 24, is a case in point. According to the BBC Website, Isabella was convicted of trolling feminist Caroline Criado-Perez, sending tweets including "go kill yourself" - after a heavy night of drinking. Isabella has now talked about the incident, warning pupils not to do the same - she said that she had never done anything like this before and will never do it again. However, she knows that she will permanently be labelled as a troll. Isabella may not fit your stereotypical idea of a troll – she has a degree and 13 GCSEs.

There is often, of course, a link between the issues of being trolled and self-harm, with one sometimes leading to the other. As the mother of a son aged nine and a daughter aged three, I wonder what I need to be doing now and in the future to prepare my children to have the self-esteem and emotional strength to cope with being bullied or trolled and to resist the idea of self-harming. Also, what will I need to do to make sure that my children do not make the mistakes of Isabella and become trolls themselves?

I expect that you can guess my challenge to you this week: What are you doing to help guide the young people in your life through the difficulties of trolling/being trolled and self-harm?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Life’s journeys

Long-term readers of this blog will undoubtedly be interested to hear that my predecessor, Mike Abbott, has completed his 500 mile pilgrimage from St Jean Pieds des Ports in France, over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. The trip took Mike 36 days (including three rest days), carrying his gear every step of the way. Mike said that he met people of all ages along the trip, from 82 down to 16 and that it was a very life-affirming experience among other things he observed  the inherent decency and kindness of ordinary people

Journeys are often seen as a metaphor for life. For those young people in Surrey who start their life’s journey surrounded by people who are violent, angry, taking drugs or even just working so hard that they have no time for the kids, how hard for these kids to get off on the right foot, to have any self-esteem, to believe that they are worth something.  And once they get used to having these types of people around them, how extra hard to make the necessary journey through life to surrounding themselves with people who will care and nurture and love them.

With respect to my own life journey, one of my strengths and weaknesses has always been wanting to get things sorted out now, today, this minute. If someone has an emotional problem, I want to help them solve it now. If I need to make a change at work, I want to make it now. On the positive side, this provides me with lots of energy to achieve things. On the negative side, some things just take longer to achieve. Over time I have had to learn to leave some issues alone, with a view to dealing with them later. Or maybe waiting and seeing when solutions or opportunities turn up – maybe next week, next month or next year.  I have learnt to involve other people’s brains and resources in solving the problems. Going forward at Surrey Youth Focus, we very much intend to try to solve  issues and create opportunities for young people in Surrey by collaborating with others as much as possible.

My challenge to you this week is this: If you have a problem or ambition, don’t go on the journey alone. Who can you find to help you solve it? Who will be life-affirming in supporting you? 

Cate Newnes-Smith

Monday, 3 November 2014

One door closes, another opens?

It’s easy to look at the charity sector and get depressed. Grant funding being cut left, right and centre. Big corporations being awarded contracts which charities feel they could deliver with much better results for the beneficiaries.  It’s becoming harder and harder to get core costs covered through traditional means. New regulations such as auto-enrolment on pensions increasing the costs.

However, on the other hand, there are always new opportunities coming along and for charities willing to be open-minded, flexible and ready to change their business models and ways of working, there are opportunities for them to reinvent themselves whilst still delivering services to their core beneficiaries.

Whilst local authorities have less money, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Local Enterprise Partnerships , the Big Lottery and other organisations have more money.

Many charities are successfully making the transition from grants to trading – selling their services, whether it be to statutory organisations, the private sector or private individuals. As mentioned in this blog a few weeks ago, the blurring of the sectors between businesses and charities is leading to various “shades of grey” business models which enable beneficiaries to be served from a more solid financial model. The newly launched All Saints CafĂ© in Leatherhead is a great example of an organisation helping young people into employment, funded by its' food sales to businesses and individuals in the local area.

Social media, gaming apps, big data, online forum - technology provides new ways of attracting supporters, spreading the word, gaining insights and communicating with the wider world. The rise of Social Investment - borrowing money to finance new projects - is another interesting development for the sector. 

Businesses have been increasing their Corporate Social Responsibility activities over the years. There has been scepticism about “greenwash” and cynical motives, but I strongly believe that I am meeting more and more businesses who genuinely want to make a difference and who can be a real help to the charity sector.

However, the brave new world requires vision, courage and a willingness to take bold steps. This needs to be true not only for the chief executive, but also for the board of trustees and other stakeholders. It is not for the faint-hearted.

My challenge to you this week is this: if you are involved in running a charity, do you have a bold vision for the future and are you ready to go for it? If not, why not?