Monday, 14 December 2015

New projects and new years resolutions

Oops. This hasn't really been a weekly blog of late, has it? We have so many exciting projects going on that blog writing has slipped. Apologies... new year's resolution (is this the first one you've heard?) to write more often.

My wonderful team have been admiring the number of new ideas that I've been having... and gently and wittily pointing out that we cannot do it all. My response was to say that I used to have a boss who was a nightmare to work with because he was always excited by his latest idea..whilst I was still working on the last three that he had tasked me with, so I sympathise with their plight. New Year's resolution no 2: learn to prioritise and say no.

Anyway, here are a few of the things going on that you may be interested in...

  • Our Safeguarding conference went extremely well, with 100% of attendees satisfied or very satisfied. The feedback that we got from attendees is that they want more help with safeguarding...policies, seminars, briefings, etc. We will be talking to Surrey CC about how this might be provided.
  • We are setting up a cross-sector collaboration of organisations who are keen to help young people with learning disabilities into work, in conjunction with businesses, charities, Surrey CC and Surrey Chambers. If you share our passion for this and would like to be involved, let me know. This will be followed by another to help other vulnerable young people into work.
  • We have been awarded funding by Healthwatch to work with a group of young people around the issue of a mental health issue that his bothering them. We will support the young people to take the actions that they want to take to address the issue.

Did I say that I wasn't going to have any more ideas? Trying not to, but then other people give them to me. I went to an event at the House of Lords hosted by Lord Victor Adebowale (CEO of Turning Point) and the very interesting Collaborate organisation. Victor kindly gave me an idea... a significant amount of crime in this country is committed by people leaving care... many of whom have had awful life experiences as children and who have not been given good role models or shown appropriate behaviours required to fit in and hold down jobs. He suggested that we sit down with young people leaving care in Surrey and ask them what they need in order to get a job, housing, self belief etc. I am sure that a mentor, someone that they can turn to when they are down, will figure in there somewhere. We can then get a cross-sector collaboration together to serve these young people in Surrey. There's no shortage of people wanting to help. The challenge is ensuring that the offer is young person focused, holistic and joined up.  I am very excited by this. It's now on my list of things to do. However, I am prioritising. I won't start it until a few other projects are underway. Promise.

I wish for you whatever you wish for yourself this Christmas.... peace, joy, silence, laughter, fun, happiness, calm, energy, etc.....

Friday, 20 November 2015

Reckless young people?

I have heard a number of statistics about the current generation of young people smoking less and drinking less than previous generations. Here's a great story to back up the statistics:

The school council at Eythorne Elvington Community Primary School in Dover raised the issue of smoking by parents at the school gates, leading to the head asking parents to improve their behaviour in the school newsletter.

Go, kids, go! Let's get these kids sorting out world peace, too, I'm sure they can do a better job than our generation.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The social and economic cost of mental health

Sitting in the office alone on a very grey Monday morning, I am reading some very depressing statistics:
  • One in 10 children has a mental health problem at any one time.
  • More than a fifth of children referred to mental health services in England have been refused treatment.
  • Only one in 10 prisoners has no mental health disorder.
Aside from the human misery of all this, how much money do we spend on the justice system and keeping people in prison? How much is lost by our economy on families supporting people with mental health issues?

The methodical researchers over at Public Health Surrey who are passionate about improving people's health have told me that a proven way of preventing mental health related issues such as self-harm, taking legal highs, etc, is to build resilience in young people. To expand the idea further, I thought I would take a quick look on the internet for a definition (thanks to Wikipedia....)

"Psychological resilience is defined as an individual's ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity. Stress and adversity can come in the shape of family or relationship problems, health problems, or workplace and financial worries, among others. Resilience is not a rare ability; in reality, it is found in the average individual and it can be learned and developed by virtually anyone. Resilience should be considered a process, rather than a trait to be had.
A common misapprehension is that resilient people are free from negative emotions or thoughts, remaining optimistic in most or all situations. To the contrary, resilient individuals have, through time, developed coping techniques that allow them to effectively and relatively easily navigate around or through crises. In other words, people who demonstrate resilience are people with optimistic attitude and positive emotionality and are, by practice, able to effectively balance negative emotions with positive ones."

This is a key area where all of the wonderful youth organisations across Surrey make a significant contribution to all of the young people that they work with. 

We strongly believe in Youth Social Action as a way of giving young people a sense of agency, and hence self-esteem and resilience. 

We would be interested to hear more of your stories/anecdotes/comments about building resilience in young people...

Monday, 12 October 2015

Young people: risks, control and growth

I think being a parent myself is a great asset to my job. I understand how difficult it is to be a parent myself, how you long to do the best thing for your kids, but so often its not obvious what the best thing is. How quickly or slowly to let go, to enable your child to learn for themselves, rather than be protected and told what to do? You also long to control the environment your child is in as much you can, to nurture and support, but lots of things are out of your control.

An example that my husband and I have faced recently. Due to circumstances beyond our control, our daughter has just started at a school at some distance to our son's school. Both schools are within walking distance of our home, but it is not possible to do the school run to both schools on foot given the start and finish times. So, we were faced with the choice: school run in the car - creating pollution, congestion and missing out on exercise - or school run on foot, letting our ten year old walk a mile to school by himself, crossing several roads which at school times get quite busy. As you may know, there is evidence that kids who walk to school perform better. So, we have opted to let him walk to school and I have alerted my mums network to let me know if anyone spots any concerns about his road crossing behaviour!

For now, the decision feels good. It is healthier and he is learning independence. But will I feel guilty and irresponsible if he has an accident? 

Organisations working with young people, face the same issues as a parent. How much can they and should they control the environment? How much risk should they let the young people take?

There is evidence that young people naturally take more risks, it's hard wired into their brains. Ben Byrne from Surrey CC will be talking about this at our Safeguarding Conference on 12th November. If you haven't already booked a ticket, book now, thanks to funding from Surrey CC, we have extended the number of places at  the conference, but still only have a few places left.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Communilab in action

As hopefully you have heard by now, we are in the middle of setting up a great new Community...called Communilab. It is bringing together charities, businesses, public sector agencies, schools and universities to solve problems and create opportunities for young people in Surrey. Communilab Community interacts both off-line (meetings, etc) and online at Two examples of collaboration...

Youth work on the pitch started on Friday night in Park Barn, Guildford. It is based on the Leatherhead Youth Project model of organising regular football sessions and having youth workers alongside to build relationships with young people, especially the ones most in need of a supportive adult relationship. The Guildford sessions have resulted from a collaboration of a number of organisations including Guildford Saints Football club providing the coaches, Guildford Borough Council providing the pitch, Lifetrain providing the youth workers, Kings College and Surrey CC youth worker marketing to young people, Surrey CC youth worker promoting, funding from the High Sheriff Youth Awards (looking for more though in case you know of any sources...), Active Surrey and Surrey FA providing guidance and kit, etc.The initial session on Friday night had 14 lads, a good start and a sign that this project is much needed in the area.

I am, sadly, only talking about boys football at the moment. As a former footballer myself, I am hoping that they might get some girls football going too.  (Personal plea - I would still like to find regular 5-aside women's football in the Guildford/Godalming area. I don't have time to train or play 11-aside at weekends, but would love a quick one hour game an evening a week).

The second example of collaboration is Surrey County Council's volunteering programme. Surrey CC are keen to promote volunteering in the county and are leading by example, encouraging their own staff to volunteer. Their staff volunteer offers are being put on Communilab, for charities to see and take up. To see these opportunities you would need to join the Communilab Community. If you are a charity wanting access to Communilab... for members of Surrey Youth Focus then access to Communilab is provided as a part of your subscription, contact the team for your login. If not, join SYF to gain access to Communilab. If you are a business, public sector agency, school or university wanting access to Communilab then contact us now on

Monday, 28 September 2015

Bold new futures

Three of us in the office have had our youngest child start school this September. Generally things are going well, us mothers are adapting to seeing our little ones off to school (and the kids are doing too badly either!)

On the first day, a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues had a lovely experience as she walked her youngest to school on the first day. Along the streets approaching the school, on the pavement in chalk were encouraging words...

Dream big
Be yourself
You're a star
You rock kid
Have a great day
Here is where your journey begins...

How nice to have lovely encouraging words, we could all do with a few of those in our working lives too I think.

On another subject, places at our Safeguarding Conference are going like hotcakes... much faster than expected. We are going to see if we can make some more places available, but in the meantime book today if you want to be sure of a place!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Let young people play their part

Sorry for the gap in blog posts. One of my strengths (and weaknesses) is my passion for my job... I sometimes get involved in too many things at once!

It was our AGM this week and the undoubted stars of the show were the young people from Surrey Heath Youth Council who presented on the great practical work that they have done around preventing use of "legal highs" and anti-bullying.

I frequently go to meetings full of professionals (very often with not a single young person in sight) where issues such as self-harm, legal highs, mental health and bullying are discussed. The solutions that are come up with are generally the same... leaflets, messages via the professionals, a website etc.

Who are young people more likely to listen to? An old fogey like me rattling on about an issue on which I have no personal experience or a young person who may have directly experienced the issue or had a sibling or friend who has? I strongly believe that we should be turning to young people across the county to help with these issues. There are many young people who want to.

Often what is needed is not much more than the salary of a good youth worker to support young people in their work. The Citizenship Foundation ran a great session for us at a local school, where the young people were passionate about supporting their peers through issues. It was the kids who have had the tougher times in life, often from poorer backgrounds, who were the most engaged in the process. The Citizenship Foundation can come in and deliver, or alternatively train up local youth workers on their workshop materials.

Surely in these times of austerity it also makes economic sense? I am now looking for evidence that will prove (or disprove) my theory that it makes the best social and economic sense to create the conditions and support structures across the county so that many of these thorny societal issues affecting young people are being addressed primarily by youth-led initiatives. If you can supply any evidence either way I would be very grateful...

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A Plea to Funders

I said that I was off for two weeks, but having taken an interest in all of the articles around Kids Company, I need to get something off my chest before I go.

It seems to me that the high level summary is about Kids Company is:

A long term successful charity needs Good delivery PLUS Good Fundraising PLUS Good Governance PLUS Good administrative systems.

The general media consensus seems to be that Kids Company made a fantastic difference to lots of young people's lives, although there were some practices ("pocket money" allegedly spent on drugs) which have attracted criticism. They also had fantastic fundraising capabilities.

The jury still seems to be out on the governance, the trustees are largely keeping quiet, presumably following due process for directors of a company that is insolvent, we don't yet know what was going on behind the scenes. What it certainly lacked was good financial and administrative systems - monitoring and evaluation of its' work, tracking its' finances, keeping a sensible level of reserves. There seems to have been a mantra that all money should be spent on the kids, not on administrative functions.

Funders are most usually willing to pay for Good delivery. But very often, they are not willing to pay for the other stuff - governance and administration. However, the Kids Company example proves that just being excellent at delivery is not enough. Every sensible funder should understand that a certain amount of money spent on administration is a good thing, not a bad thing. My plea to funders - please bear that in mind when funding charities!

Monday, 10 August 2015

International Youth Day - 12th August

I was asked by the Cabinet office last week if we could provide examples of young people having a positive impact on their communities and working hard to get on so they can be celebrated as part of international youth day this week.

Whilst I know that there are lots of fabulous young people in Surrey doing this stuff, I was concerned about whether the right people would be around in Youth Organisations in mid-August to answer the call. However, many of you are hard at work at your desks (or checking your emails on holiday – naughty!) and our members have done us proud… there have been a flurry of responses. Just a few:

  • Skillway nominated Josh Taylor – check out his website 
  • Eikon’s (@eikoncharity) Youth Development Board have been working hard feeding back to trustees and organising an awards evening.
  • Through YMCA East Surrey’s extensive volunteer and employability programme, called ‘Get Involved’, young people have been gaining work experience and qualifications with a view to finding future employment. Well done especially to the volunteers of the month – Frankie, Abbi and Sam.
  • Epsom Phab we have a fantastic group of young volunteers who dedicate hours of their time to ensuring a wide range of activities are provided for the children with and without disabilities  at our club.

Do encourage any young people you are working with to tweet on the day (August 12) using the #aimhigh or #YouthDay.

Also, do use this to publicise opportunities that you have for young people.

Just to give you some ideas about what you might like to tweet about:
  • Joe Bloggs from Surrey started her own social enterprise at 20. Could you do the same? #AimHigh (including a picture with with hashtag)
  • Under 25 and have a business idea? Here's how to start (include link and hashtag)
  • Girlguiding gave me the opportunity to make a real difference to my local community #AimHigh
  • Could you be a volunteer and make a difference? Include hashtag and weblink

I’m off on holiday for the next two weeks, so there’ll be a two week gap in my blog as I am away with hubby and kids to cycle in South Wales for a week after which I will hopefully be relaxed enough to be able to sit still on a beach in Cornwall for a week. See you in September.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Forgetting the past

Sometimes it's good to remember and learn from the past (as individuals and nations). However, who out of us doesn't have something they would rather forget? Furthermore, who out of us doesn't have something we would rather the world couldn't find out about for the next ten, twenty, fifty years... that photo of me with a perm that I thought was so cool in the eighties...

Unfortunately the way that it has become the social norm for young people to live their lives online these days, their youthful indiscretions will often be exhibited or talked about online for all to see.

An interesting campaign called iRights has been launched to allow children to delete their online past.

I am not sure how this would work in practice, but it's certainly an interesting idea. I am wondering whether there are any downsides (other than the logistics of achieving this), I can't immediately think of them. I would be interested to hear some experts discuss this!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Communilab - an idea whose time has come

I went to a meeting with David Hodge, the leader of Surrey CC, and a number of charity CEOs last week. These are regular meetings - about three times a year - to inform us about short and long-term financial planning and how it might affect the charity sector. The good news is that there have not so far been in the in year cuts from central government for 2015-6 that were once feared. The council will know more about the 2016 funding after 25th November. It is baffling to me how national finances are run. Councils, who need for efficiency reasons to give out contracts lasting, say, 5 years, do not know their next year's finances until a few months beforehand.  

Surrey CCs overall income is remaining roughly flat over a number of years (increasing council tax receipts but decreasing monies from central government). However, the outgoings are increasing massively for reasons out of Surrey's control. Surrey has the largest population of 100 year olds in the country! Of course, with a particularly large elderly population comes the associated costs of care for conditions such as dementia. Furthermore, more babies with serious health conditions are surviving through to adulthood, also with associated care costs.  Finally, lots of families with young children move into the county from London.

So, the council's finances are going to continue to be squeezed. This backs up a quote from NESTA:

       “We face seemingly intractable long-term economic and social challenges … radical innovation is needed in public services to respond effectively to these challenges.
       Radical new approaches require radical new actors. We need to combine the ingenuity and initiative of a diverse group of innovators – from the public sector, private companies and third sector, alongside users and communities – to find new solutions to pressing economic and social problems.”

                                                      Michael Harris and David Albury.
                                                      The innovation imperative." NESTA, London (2009)

As many of you know, our Communilab community is bringing together just such a diverse group of innovators - public sector, private companies, third sector, users and communities AND also we plan to involve schools/universities.  Communilab aims to create opportunities and solve problems for young people in Surrey. As budgets get squeezed further, we believe the potential benefits from Communilab will be huge. Already we are getting some great examples of collaboration - click here for more information on Youth Work on the Pitch, our football collaboration between Leatherhead Youth Project, Lifetrain, Surrey FA, Active Surrey, Kings College and others. Click here to see the original collaboration conversation that led to this work.

Monday, 20 July 2015

What is good mental health?

Apologies for the lack of blog for a few weeks. A family bereavement followed by a couple of weeks with a full diary playing catch up and my blog got neglected.

A theme that comes up time and again in my work is young people’s mental health in Surrey and it seems particularly appropriate to think about this now. I have had discussions with various people and no one has come up with a definition of what good mental health looks like. We have an idea of measures about good physical health – body mass index, heart rates, cholesterol – and what we need to do to achieve this – exercise, 5 a day, etc.

In other areas of public activities there is a clear focus on the positive – a sense of safety rather than a fear of crime. We have the much more proactively named “Supporting Families” work rather than the “Troubled Families” programme.

So, with respect to mental health, I believe it is important to know what we are aiming for. What does good mental health look like? And what can we do to get there?

So far, I have not managed to find an official definition of what good mental health is. Can anyone provide me with one?

In the meantime, we do have some excellent feedback from the CAMHS Rights and Participation team who asked young people what they thought it meant to be emotionally healthy.

After a discussion here is a list of what they believed could define good emotional health:
- Good independent coping mechanisms
- Balanced range of emotions
- Being able to stay positive even when times are tough.
- Having the ability to learn from experiences and move forward positively.
- Having a “Thirst for life”  (Looking forward to the future positively).
- Accepting there are bad days as well as good days.
- Healthy understanding of your own thoughts, feelings and emotions.
- Knowing your possibilities and being realistic.
- Being able to make goals, and having hopes and dreams.
- Feeling motivated.
- Not being hard on yourself.
- Being able to feel comfortable in "your own shell"

A young person also wrote a piece of text to describe what good emotional well being looks like:

Good emotional health is having good independent coping mechanisms to be able to successfully deal with any situation that might arise in daily life. Good emotional health is to have a balanced range of emotions, and to be able to express them all healthily, whilst also learning from all experiences and move forward from them positively. Good emotional health is staying positive even when times are tough, and being aware that everyone has bad days from time to time.

Please do let me know if you have seen an official definition of what good mental health looks like.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Football World Cup, I'm not going to launch into a discussion about bribes ...and the whole FIFA scandal...don't get me started on that one...

The Football World Cup is going on right now. Did you know? It's in Canada. England are through to the last sixteen and are playing Norway at 9pm tonight (22nd June). You can watch it on BBC3. In case you have no idea what I am going on about, it's the Women's World Cup. I'm very glad that England's matches are being shown on mainstream TV, a big improvement over a few years ago.

So, why do I think it relevant to mention this in a blog about young people? The benefits of sport on mental health, physical health, resilience, etc, etc, are too well documented for me to go into here. It still goes to show the difference in role models offered up by society to young women  and young men.  So, it's very important that young woman are exposed to the right role models to consider that sport is for "people like them".

I hope that you will be encouraging the young people, especially young women, in your life to watch the football and be inspired by it.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Equality and inequality

A week of sharp contrasts. Last Thursday I went to a highly informative and thought provoking seminar on child poverty organised by Surrey County Council and The Walton Charity. The two speakers were Professor Tess Ridge from the University of Bath and Helen Caldwell, the Strategic Development office from North Somerset Council, who between them have extensive experience of understanding and overcoming child poverty.

Some of the points that stood out for me:
- Living in poverty touches so many aspects of a child's life experience as they grow up.
- Children as young as six living in poverty will try to protect their parents by not bringing notes home from school that ask for money for, say, school trips.
- Low income homes are often doubly hit because the work that they do get is highly erratic, unstable and hence their already low incomes vary from one week to the next, creating a lot of uncertainty for the child.
- Participation of poor children in after school informal learning is key to giving them better life chances.

At the other end of the financial spectrum, on Monday I was highly privileged to be invited to attend the celebrations of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in the presence of the Queen, Prince Philip, Princess Anne, Duke of Cambridge, David Cameron, the Attorney General of the United States, and MPs. It was a lovely event with lots of young people from schools around Surrey participating in musical and ceremonial activities. It was a great opportunity to reflect on how most of us are lucky to live in one of the safest and most affluent countries in the world. Reflecting on the actions of those barons 800 years ago, I particularly liked the closing words by David Cameron: "What we do today will shape the world for many, many years to come."

What we need to be doing today is working together to ensure that young people growing up in poverty here in Surrey (yes, there 23,000 of them in Surrey) have the same opportunities and life chances as the rest of us.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Good surprises and impressive young people

No blog last week – I was on holiday with my family in the Lake District. My children frequently surprise me. Mostly with good things, sometimes not so good. Last week in the very good category, our four year old walked and scrambled up Blencathra,  the 16th tallest mountain in England. We expected lots of complaints, but got none, she was enthusiastic all the way. Our ten year old did complain, but only that we weren’t going fast enough nor letting him go on some of the interesting (i.e. dangerous) routes. I’m sure that I would have given my parents a lot more grief about being asked to walk up a mountain at that age.

Enough about my own kids, onto other young people who also impressed me. Just before I went on leave, I visited the Surrey Heath Youth Forum and saw for myself why they won the Group Volunteering Superstar at the Surrey Young Superstars awards. What a fantastic group of young people. I really enjoyed hearing their ideas and enthusiasm for how they can make a difference. They are currently running an anti-bullying campaign and are starting to plan some work on substance abuse. I look forward to hearing how they get on. You may have heard the term “Youth Social Action” from myself or others – this was definitely it. For groups wanting to run Youth Social Action, I can highly recommend learning from this group. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Safeguarding young people in Surrey

Safeguarding has been popping up in my diary and conversations quite a lot of late.

I have been invited to represent the youth third sector on the Surrey Children's Safeguarding Board. Over time, I believe that my attendance at these meetings could make a difference to young people in Surrey - I know of a number of stories about how third sector organisations, particularly small voluntary ones, are not managing to exchange the information that they need with statutory bodies in order to provide the highest possible level of safeguarding. An example of this is that voluntary organisations need to know if there are any restraining orders on a young person turning up at a youth club if the victim might also be there. I hope that through attending the safeguarding board, and other initiatives, we can bring the statutory and voluntary sectors closer together on Safeguarding.

If you have any thoughts on safeguarding young people in Surrey let me know:

·         What is concerning young people about their safety?
·         Are you a third sector organisation that has concerns around safeguarding?
·         Perhaps you work for a statutory body and have ideas for change about your relationship with the third sector? 

      Feel free to reply to this blog or email me. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Surrey Young Superstars

Yesterday we celebrated some wonderful young people in Surrey at the Surrey Young Superstars Awards run in partnership with Haslemere Travel at the Radisson Blu in Guildford. Many of you will know that we have run our Celebration of Youth event for a number of years. This year, rather than have two separate events in the county, we chose to work with Haslemere Travel to celebrate the achievements of young people, under their brand – Surrey Young Superstars. Thanks to Savills Guildford who kindly sponsored the event.

The awards were presented by sailor Tracy Edwards MBE, well known for leading the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race and becoming the first woman to receive the Yachtsman of the Year Trophy. Tracy told her story, which is a wonderful example of why we should never give up on even the most troublesome young people... at 15 she was expelled from school and only found sailing when backpacking around Europe age 16. Thanks to Tracy for sharing her story and for presenting the awards.

Here are some snippets about the inspiring young people…

Aged only 12 Josh Bryan swam 22 miles in his local swimming pool – equivalent to swimming the Channel - raising more than £750 for Shooting Star Chase, but he didn’t stop there…he subsequently climbed the 541ft of Broadgate Tower in the city of London to raise a further £500. Josh was awarded Individual Fundraising Superstar (age 5-12).

  • Luke Kitterman was inspired to raise funds when a close friend was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Luke raised over £1000 with his friends Callum Brown and Zack Fuller by running the NUTS Challenge, a 7km obstacle course that is used by the Army for training.  Luke was awarded Individual Fundraising Superstar (age 13-19).
  • 14 year old Ronnie Barley won Caring Superstar and also the overall 2015 Superstar winner. Ronnie is the sole carer for his mother, who lives with a debilitating long-term illness. He supports his mother emotionally, physically and practically on a daily basis – cleaning, washing, feeding the pets, and ensuring his mother takes her medication.
  • Despite undergoing several major surgeries throughout her childhood, Bella Symons has always been determined to come back to school each time and carry on with her studies. A valued member of the Combined Cadet Force, in addition she coaches a football team for disabled children in her own spare time, where she makes a real, positive difference to the children on the team. Bella was awarded Courageous Superstar.
  • Sing-along concerts help build a rapport between the students at Royal Holloway College and over one hundred people in several nursing homes. Samuel Wong has expanded the Singalong group from just 4 to more than 200 members. He has led a group to increase volunteering amongst students and done other voluntary roles including supporting public consultations and promoting social harmony with the Surrey Police Independent Advisory Group. Samuel was awarded the Volunteering Superstar.
  • Surrey Heath Youth Council was awarded the Group Volunteering Superstar – it has been involved in all sorts of projects, including consulting and raising money to improve a local skate park, a litter pick up service, health service and bus service surveys and giving young people’s views on local development in Camberley. They also ran an anti-bullying conference and trained 100 young people from the Borough’s five main schools to become anti-bullying ambassadors, to support victims and help reduce bullying.
  • Epsom and Ewell PHAB, a youth club which integrates both able-bodied and children with disabilities wrote, produced and performed a musical called “We predict a riot” at the Epsom Playhouse. The team ran the event on a tight budget - organizing auditions, running extensive rehearsals at weekends, ordering costumes, booking the theatre, arranging publicity and, of course, selling tickets. Over 45 youngsters took part aged 8-18, either as performers or stage crew, helped by a team of 20 volunteers. They were awarded Enterprise Superstar.

We are grateful, as ever, for the wonderful support that we received from our patrons and other dignitaries in Surrey. Attendees included the Lord-Lieutenant, the High Sheriff, the chairman of Surrey County Council, the Mayor of Haslemere, the Deputy Mayor of Guildford, the Detective Chief Superintendent and 18 member organisations of Surrey Youth Focus. Checkout our website for pictures. 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Timebanks, Community & Sharing

I have had a pretty busy couple of weeks. Here are a few items that I would like to highlight.

Surrey County Council is running a project to get Time Banks set up across Surrey. Timebanks are a way of getting people to offer and receive skills in their communities. They often appeal to a different people in society to those who do traditional volunteering.  

“Within our communities we have a wealth of skills, interests and experience that we can share with each other. Timebanking is all about giving and receiving.  It works by people offering to share a skill, interest, experience or some practical support with other time bank members.  In return they can receive something they want from the time bank.”

If you want to know more, you can attend an information session in Guildford on 27th May. Otherwise contact Liz Tracey.

We presented Communilab to our Community Champions, Penningtons Manches solicitors, who were, as ever, very supportive and helpful. They took a good look at the system and came up with ideas as to how they can use it to help young people in Surrey.

In common with many of you I was saddened to hear about the devastation of Clandon Park in a fire this week. I was there just a week ago, enjoying the magnificent surroundings during the GASP ten year anniversary reception. It was an inspirational event, celebrating how young people's lives can be turned around and enhanced by practical projects working in conjunction with mainstream education. As you may have picked up by now, I strongly believe in the power of partnerships between charity/voluntary groups and businesses. Appropriate partnerships can do a lot more for a charity’s cause than just a monetary exchange. The support of McLaren has helped GASP on a number of levels. What better motivator for young people interested in mechanics than to have their awards event at McLaren? Also, the use of McLaren’s name has eased open other doors for GASP. Here’s to  GASPs next ten years…

(A little personal aside - it was particularly poignant for me when Sally Varah, GASP’s hardworking, inspirational chair, asked us to remember what we were doing 10 years ago. I can remember in some detail my two months visiting the neonatal unit in hospital every day where my tiny premature son spent the first couple of months of his life. He is ten years old this month and is healthy, happy normal boy.)

Monday, 13 April 2015

All Saints - no 2 on Trip Advisor

I was delighted to hear that All Saints Cafe are now ranked 2 out of 46 for food & drink locations in Leatherhead on Trip Advisor. In case you haven’t heard of them, All Saints CafĂ© has been born out of the Leatherhead Youth Project and its' aim is to nurture young people who need some help into employment. This demonstrates several different building blocks that a charity needs to get right if moving into trading…making a significant difference to the charity’s beneficiaries…delighting the customer AND getting them to tell people about it…enabling the word to get out through social media, etc. 

All Saints had great help from corporate partners on opening its' cafe. On that subject there has been much in the media about Cameron's pledge to get public sector and large companies to pay employees to do 3 days voluntary work a year. I was surprised to hear that this was backed by an unlikely source - the CBI. Also the Institute of Personnel and Development have issued a report that says 39% of large organisations already offer paid time for their employees to take part in volunteering opportunities, with an additional 23% offering unpaid time, not bad! 

Think of all these people - with their networks, skills and experience -  what a huge difference they could make towards solving some of the issues that charities are trying to solve. The challenge is to make great use of the time they have available. It’s easy getting people to paint fences. It’s a lot harder (but a lot more beneficial) to get them collaborating to solve issues.

I was told about this organisation today – City Camp Brighton – “a local network of people and events working to accelerate social innovation projects within the City, through providing support, funding and resource.”

This is the nearest thing that I have found to what we are aspiring to be with Communilab - groups of people from a variety of backgrounds/organisations collaborating towards shared goals. In their case it is to accelerate social innovation projects in Brighton, in ours it is to significantly improve the lives of young people in Surrey.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

International Collaboration

I beg your indulgence this week to talk about an idea that I had over the weekend that I would love to give away to someone who would like to run with it. Whilst obviously the main focus of my role is here in Surrey, I do sometimes wonder about the wider world and how we ensure peace for generations to come…. as I am sure many of you do.

On Friday we took the kids to the IMAX cinema in London to see an inspiring film about the launch of the International Space Station in the early 2000s. What struck me, apart from the amazing technical feats, was the wonderful collaboration between a large number of nations particularly Russia and America. The Russian missions to the international space station had American commanders and the American space shuttle missions had Russian commanders. The multinational teams of three work together for 3-4 years before going into space, getting to know each other extremely well.

This got me thinking more about how we can promote and celebrate this sort of international collaboration, especially those between people whose nations have a difficult relationship. I came up with the idea of an International Celebration of Collaboration where multinational groups of people from the world of science, sport, music, faiths and humanism, etc come together to celebrate the projects they have done together.  Other groups who want to start international collaboration could come along to learn and be inspired. So, if you know anybody who might like to get this underway… feel free to give them the idea. 

I only ask for an invite J

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Early adopters

Like many people these days my career has taken a far from straight path. My first degree was in Electronic Engineering at Imperial College and I spent the first 10 years of my career in IT related roles. I gradually moved away from this as I found that people and organisations interested me more than technology. However I continue to maintain my interest in technology and how it can serve people. That is not to say that I am always an early adopter, sometimes I cling onto the old... my IT manager husband and I resisted a satnav for years preferring to navigate for each other (without marital arguments, I might add). 

I came across a great example this week of a piece of technology that I would happily be an early adopter for. 

The Connection, a London-based homelessness charity has launched an app that uses geolocation technology to let people tell them that a person is sleeping rough by making a donation. The Donate Locate app is available on Apple devices and enables people to donate £1, £3, or £5 to The Connection at St Martin's when they see someone sleeping rough and want to help. It will also record the location that they were at when then made the donation so that the charity’s outreach team can assist the person in need. Click here to read more

If you come across examples innovative uses of technology like this that you think could be applied to young people living in Surrey do let me know. Even better post it on Communilab, our Community forum for all to see. 

Communilab is still in "beta" phase, but we are gradually increasing the number of people who can log in and post content. If you are keen to be an early adopter, we would love to hear from you. If you don't have a login and want one drop me a line.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Young people's voices in design of services

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were looking to develop a programme around the “Voice of Youth.”

Last week I had another good meeting with a statutory body want to hear the concerns of young people to ensure that they are being addressed appropriately. It is widely known that this generation of young people are less interested in party politics than previous generations. What perhaps is less well-known is that they are more engaged in society and societal issues than their parents’ generation.

Meanwhile, it feels to me like there is the will amongst lots of people within the statutory sector to get young people's voices listened to as part of the process of designing services. We are approached about once a month by statutory bodies and other organisations wanting to have young people’s opinions.  

Some may be tokenistic but I believe many are genuine.  However there is often a mismatch between the ways in which young people want to talk and the ways in which statutory bodies want to hear. The traditional focus groups and surveys that have worked in the past will not necessarily appeal to the current multimedia, socially networked generation who have more choices of how to spend their time than ever before. One of the important aspects in all of this is making sure that young people are given some feedback after they’ve give their voice, so that they know what has happened as a result.

This project is taking us a while to develop, rightfully so. I feel like I am on a treasure hunt, gradually gathering together clues on how we can make this happen in partnership with others. We are wondering about whether to create an interactive play or road show type event that can be taken to different youth settings in the county on, say, an annual basis, to collect young people’s opinions. The events would collect information on behalf of a variety of statutory bodies and other organisations. One of the criteria for the design of the events would be basing it on rigorous research methodologies, not just collecting a few sound bites. If you have heard of a similar thing elsewhere, do let me know.



Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Diary snapshot

I thought I would take a different tack this week and give a snapshot of my diary for ten working days (last week and this…)

On Friday I will be meeting with Surrey County Councillors Clare Curran and Linda Kemeny to give them an update on Surrey Youth Focus.

One of my top priorities is helping the youth third sector in Surrey to become sustainable in the light of on going funding cuts. This involves a variety of activities including opening doors for our member charities, envisaging very different ways of operating and forming new collaborations. A significant number of meetings in my diary during this period are contributing to this.

In the snapshot period I am having three meetings with large companies – potential Community Champions for Communilab. This will give youth charities access to a variety of people within companies – HRs managers, CSR managers and many employees who are given a couple of days a year by the company to spend with a charity or community organisation of their choice. What a rich seam for charities to tap into…however I urge you to be creative and develop relationships slowly, building trust. Don’t dive in for the big ask on day one.

My colleague Paul Mitchell (Transform Housing) and I are doing a piece of work to find ways to develop further trading opportunities for charities e.g. doing gardening or catering work, like the Leatherhead Youth Project model. Related to this we are having a meeting tomorrow with a large organisation’s purchasing department.

Surrey County Council are interested in promoting collaboration between charities and companies…sound familiar? As you may have spotted by now, a subject dear to my heart with Communilab. I had an initial meeting on this with the lead project manager at Surrey CC. We will be looking at how we can collaborate with them on this… with Communilab we believe that we have part of the answer already up and running.

The new CAMHS contract is an opportunity for a much better deal for young people with mental health issues and I strongly believe that the third sector has a key role to play in this. To this end I set up a meeting with some of my third sector colleagues and one of the potential bidders for the CAMHS contract. A very interesting meeting where we explored what we would like the brave new world to be....different routes to access and physical location (some young people would like services in school, others definitely would NOT), the young person being empowered to share information e.g. from counsellor to youth worker, educating the first line of youth workers/teachers to help nip problems in the bud, manage transitions better e.g. to senior school, and have a clear definition of what mental wellness is.

I'm currently sitting on the youth commission being run by Surrey County Council to look into the future of use work in Surrey. As a part of this work I met with my colleague Chris Hickford at Eikon who is also on the commission. We want to think creatively from both a financial and delivery perspective to find ways to deliver quality youth work sustainability in Surrey. We will be looking for others to be involved with this.

My colleague Su and I had a good meeting yesterday with the sociology research department at Surrey University looking at how we can develop our “Voice of Youth” work in  a way that is empowering and interesting for young people whilst simultaneously being based on rigorous research methods.

Other items in my diary during the snapshot two weeks…chairing a meeting of youth charity chief executives this Friday, attending the Children and Young People’s Board and the Surrey Nature Partnership board, meeting with my wonderful predecessor Mike Abbot for a cuppa, internal meetings with my chair and team, and then various responses that I owe funders/potential funders.

Actually I feel quite tired reading all of this. Looks like I am doing a fair amount….hopefully from this you get a flavour of that I am working hard to ensure the future sustainability of the third sector over the coming years. 

New ideas very welcome…contributions of resources to these initiatives also very welcome…


P.S. I haven’t mentioned any of my private life during this period… organising a school entry in a swimming gala, captaining a hockey match, date with a nit comb, seeing Shaun the Sheep at the Cinema, taking the kids to a Chinese for the first time….9 year old was more up for it than the 4 year old.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Spread the good news!

We had a lovely surprise last week – Surrey Youth Focus received not one but two awards at the Surrey Digital Awards. The surprise was particularly great because we were only shortlisted for one! We received silver in the best School, Education Or Charity Website website. The winners were World Wildlife Fund and our friends Oakleaf received bronze. Also among the shortlisted were our members Halow.

This was followed by a special ‘Spirit of Surrey’ award which had not been announced prior to the event. The other people on our table said that our faces reflected our shock when our name was announced!

This award is a huge testament to all of the hard work done by Karen with the wonderful support of Su, Kate and Linda on the website over the last five years. The content on the website is always kept fresh. One of the ways in which the team make my life easy is the seamless way that if one person is out of the office, work just gets magically done by someone else with no fuss…updating the website is a good example of this. This award is also a reflection of the decision to invest early in the technology taken by my predecessor Mike Abbott and the team before many charities were doing this and a reflection on Creativitea who designed the site and continue to support us.

But no time to rest on our laurels, our work goes on. Two items about young people caught my eye this past week, one was far better publicised than the other. The sad deaths of several people in Wales due to some young drivers enjoying their new found freedoms with their drivers’ licences made front page headlines. Nothing new, unfortunately, it was ever thus, when I was a teenager, a lad down the road died when driving recklessly.

What was less publicised was data released by the Office for National Statistics a few weeks ago which showed that binge drinking is down significantly among the young. Far from the youth of today being reckless and decadent, the survey described on the BBCs Inside Health radio 4 programme said that the number of young people admitting to binge drinking was down from 1 in 3 in 2005 to 1 in 5 in 2013. There have also been impressive drops in the numbers of 15 year olds smoking in the last 30 years, from 25% to 8%.

It is our job to champion young people, so that the good news gets out to counter the negative stories that tend to dominate our media. Please spread the news! 

Monday, 2 March 2015

Survival of the fittest???

Apologies for the lack of blog for two weeks. The first was for a holiday – very important time devoted to my own kids (and husband!), rather than the young people of Surrey in general. I then came back to a very busy but interesting week and had little time to catch up on email or write the blog… I’m sure you know the problem!

Last week was a good example of the range of things I get involved within in this job….the most exciting was our beta test of Communilab carried out by our very supportive partner Barclays. We had nine very engaged Barclays employees aiming both to break the system and make suggestions for improvements. We have come away with lots of ideas and will be asking our developer to make some changes. We will be sharing Communilab with more and more of our partners…charities, Surrey County Council, Penningtons Manches solicitors, Exxon Mobil, Pfizer, Surrey Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, etc… over the coming weeks and months.

A flavour of my other activities…
·        The launch of the Surrey Nature PartnershipBoard’s business plan (I see protecting the natural environment as important for our young people)
·        A presentation on European funding from the Enterprise M3LEP and Surrey Community Action
·        The Youth Commission (investigating the role of Surrey CC in youth work in the future)
·        The Surrey Charity Chief Execs forum
·        Internal monthly Management and Finance meeting with my trustees.

With respect to funding, a theme which keeps reoccurring is the old localism versus efficiency debate. Understandably funders often balk at the idea of breaking their funding pots down into small amounts because it is expensive to administer.  They therefore give out larger pots. However, they are often keen to get smaller organisations, particularly charities, involved in delivery. They therefore want charities to form partnerships to bid for these funds. This does not, in my opinion, reduce the costs, it merely shifts them away from the commissioner into the delivery organisations. It costs to build and maintain high quality partnerships. And sometimes they go wrong, leaving one or more partners who have delivered admirably out of pocket or with a contractual or reputational problem on their hands. This emphasises the second issue with this model – the transfer of risk away from the funder to the delivery organisations. This is why the cost efficient approach of the large business suppliers (e.g. Serco) is often attractive to funders.

I realise that this might be unpopular in some quarters (after all most of us charity CEOs and trustees enjoy our roles, don’t we?), but I believe that in the tough funding regimes going forward, larger charities would flourish better and that some mergers are needed. My belief is not just based on theory, I have seen the huge difference that scaling up can make as a trustee of Groundwork in London over the last ten years.  I first went onto the board of Groundwork Merton, which had a turnover of approximately £1m, but whose future was very uncertain. Over the period of five years, 7 Groundwork trusts merged to become Groundwork London with a turnover  of over £10M. This required 7 boards to fall on their swords and a variety of suitable arrangements found for Executive Directors to manage the transition appropriately.  Groundwork Merton might not have survived, Groundwork London is now flourishing and accessing a range of funding that would not have been open to it before. The great work is going on. There was a big debate (about three years long!) about how to maintain the local connections beyond merger. The proof has been in the pudding.

I think we need to wake up and smell the coffee in Surrey…. mergers may be the best route to get our great work to flourish….

Monday, 9 February 2015

Giving young people a they want it?

We are increasingly getting requests from various local councils and other organisations to help to find out what young people want from their services and in their community. Some organisations want to consult with young people in depth whilst others are looking to us to speak on behalf of young people. We strongly believe that young people should have a say in public services and want to make this happen;  many youth leaders that we meet feel the same.

There are, however, several challenges with this. Like many situations in society, we need to find a way to get the voices of a variety of young people with different backgrounds not just the most articulate. We have amongst our 75 member organisations a very wide variety of young people, so working with our members, in theory we have access to a wide variety of voices. However, I keep hearing that young people don't want to be consulted, which has often puzzled me because the teenagers that I know are usually happy to express opinions. However, maybe it is because the organisations and their young people are all busy with their activities and don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to sit down and answer a survey, especially if they cannot see that anything is going to happen as a result of giving their time and opinion.

I was heartened last week, therefore, when meeting with the Police Sergeant Adam Luck, who leads the Surrey police team with responsibility for working with young people in Surrey. He has a very different opinion - he hasn't found any difficulty in getting young people to talk. He ran a successful conference at Sandown Park a couple of years ago called SHOUT (Surrey Hear our Thoughts) where young people came and did a series of workshops giving young people a chance to air their views and concerns. The difference was that the young people voiced their thoughts through a variety of means including interactive drama. The message that I took away from this meeting was to rid my brain of thoughts like “focus groups” and to start to think more creatively about active ways in which to work with our members to engage young people to give their voices. The other challenge that we have with this is, of course, finding ways to cover costs for our member organisations and ourselves to do this work.

If you have any thoughts on giving young people a voice, do let me know. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

Young people with disabilities

This week the subject of young people and disabilities came up a number of times. On Tuesday I visited one of our members, the Queen Elizabeth Foundation in Leatherhead where they run an employment programme to help people with disabilities - mental health or physical - back into work. They also have a residential home for people in wheelchairs where they can have a variety of accommodation to support people on the steps to independent living if appropriate. I was particularly struck by the frustration of one young resident whose communication device had been sent off for repair and who was therefore very limited in the way that she could communicate until it comes back. Imagine suddenly losing your ability to communicate for a week or so…

One of the challenges that we as a society need to face is that as we save more very sick young children such as those born very prematurely and as more people who have very bad accidents survive with major disabilities, we need to find a way to for them to have happy, fulfilling lives, in dignity and comfort, whilst at the same time working through and coming up with solutions to the financial implications.

I had a good chat with Richard at Surrey Independent Living Council (one of our fellow tenants at Astolat). SILC is run by and for disabled people, helping them to live independently and to arrange the support and services that they require.   

On Thursday I went to visit the inspirational Dan Eley who has been in a wheelchair since an accident in 2010. Since then he has set up the Dan Ely Foundation which runs employment programmes for young people from poor backgrounds in Columbia - he is out in Columbia as I type overseeing the latest programme. Dan believes that his life is more fulfilling now than before the accident. What a role model!

On Saturday my children and I went to the Challengers special monthly swimming event at the waterslides at the Spectrum in Guildford. We went with close family friends who have a daughter with a disability. The session at the Spectrum is lovely because it gives young people with disabilities and their siblings an opportunity to be themselves and have fun in a safe space where, for example, it doesn't matter if a child blocks the way walking up or takes several minutes to decide whether they want to go down the waterslide. I feel a strong sense of community spirit with everyone looking out for each other's children.

I do believe that we have made progress in society for helping young people with disabilities to live with more dignity and fun, but I also think that there is so much more that we can do - and by "we" that means everyone - we all have a role to play in ensuring that people with disabilities are welcomed into shops, into the workforce and into all aspects of mainstream society.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Perfect storm?

I attended a briefing by the leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge, last week on Surrey’s “Spending Power” for 2015 and beyond. It makes grim reading. Everybody I speak to seems to be in agreement that whatever flavour of political party or coalition is in Whitehall after the election there will be significant further cuts to local government budgets. Leaders in Surrey CC have further tough decisions to make on where the axe falls. Not a fun task methinks. So far, Surrey has maintained a much larger spend on youth provision than many other counties, but can it last?

Meanwhile I am increasingly hearing from my voluntary and charity sector colleagues that they are receiving increasingly complex referrals (i.e. clients with a wider range of problems in layman’s terms).

A third bit of news this week is some research reported by the BBC that suggests “Behaviour of boys from poor homes is worse when they grow up with wealthier neighbours”. I am not surprised to hear this, common sense says to me that if you are a teenager sitting in a class full of people with iphones going on skiing holidays it must be harder than sitting in a class full of other people with little money. So, Surrey's young people from poor backgrounds need our support. 

A perfect storm of problems? Maybe not, but certainly a pretty bad combination. I believe that a very strategic response is required with a range of players coming together to try to maintain and improve support for the most vulnerable in our society in the face of cuts. I will be working towards this over the coming months. But it won't be easy. Suggestions on a postcard please…

Monday, 19 January 2015

Impact is the new black

Outcomes are so last year. Impact is the new way of showing that your organisation or service is making a difference, so I learnt at a meeting of Local Authority representatives and Youth Infrastructure Chief Executives held at the Cabinet Office last week. Why? Because measuring outcomes alone doesn't tell about your impact.

Impact is the difference between a world with your organisation or service in it and one without it. To take a definition from the Big Lottery, impact is:

“Any effects arising from an intervention. This includes immediate short-term outcomes as well as broader and longer–term effects. These can be positive or negative, planned or unforeseen.”

WHY do we want to measure impact? Because it is evidence. Why do we want evidence? To support an assertion. What should we be using it for? To build confidence over time. What is evidence….experience, pictures, words, statistics. 

Here are a few key points that I took away from the discussion:
  • ·         You need to think about how you want to use the data. Have a think about other ways that you could use the data, to influence new potential funders that you haven’t influenced in the past e.g. lottery, businesses.
  • ·         To measure your impact, it is recommended that you consider bringing a group of key stakeholders together to reflect on the questions. It gives you a major opportunity for dialogue.
  • ·         Measuring impact is only really going to work when you have people all across the organisation bought in – including the CEO and the youth worker at the coal face. Often, youth workers are supremely unconvinced by measurement initiatives, yet can be the most evangelical if won over to the cause.
  • ·         When a young person’s life is changed, it will often be down to several organisations, perhaps a school and a youth group, rather than just one. We therefore need to talk about contribution rather than attribution - collective impact and collective responsibility.

And if you want to start on this work, here is a list of questions to get your brain going…What is need? What is demand? Who is asking? What are your big aims? What are you trying to improve? What are you trying to reduce? What assumptions do you have about ways that you work? Do young people stick with you? What do they particularly stay about for?  If you are looking to change, where is the line between adapting and wholesale metamorphosis to being a new organisation? When are you no longer you? 

For more information go to:

Monday, 12 January 2015

Anger and solutions

The sad events in France over the last week remind us of how complex some problems are and how they cannot be solved by one organisation. We (globally) need to try to understand why some people feel so angry and disenfranchised that they make life choices which are unimaginable to the rest of us. I deliberately haven’t used the word Islam because religion here has been misappropriated by people wanting to use it as an excuse to vent their issues with society, just as many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion related to the Northern Ireland conflict. These types of issues can only be solved when many parties get together to solve them. Governments cannot do them alone.

Similarly, it is important in Surrey that we work to encourage our most disenfranchised young people back into mainstream society. Surrey County Council and the local boroughs cannot and should not be expected to deal with them alone.

There are complex problems facing us in Surrey which can benefit from multiple organisations working together to solve. Going forward I very much see part of Surrey Youth Focus’s role as being too help people identify problems being experienced by our member organisations’ young people which are not getting solved. Our intention is to bring together a new set of players to help to solve them. The strong focus many corporates have on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) these days provides us with a new opportunity to help get long-standing problems solved.

For example, take the issue of getting young people with learning difficulties into meaningful occupation. These young people often have a tolerance for repetition that others do not have, which could be valuable to employers. I would like, at some point, to get together a group of HR managers from employers together with disability organisations to work together on an employment initiative to provide new types of roles suitable for people with learning difficulties. (If this has been done before… do let me know how it went…)

Do you have any problems facing young people in Surrey that you have been trying to solve for some time that could benefit from working with other organisations? Would you like help moving things forward? If so please do drop us a line, we would love to hear from you. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

All Change?

Listening to the radio this morning about the drive to get parents to give their children less sugar, I reflected on a change in our habits that has helped on one level, but has potentially caused other problems. (Click here for more information on the campaign).

Until recently, I was a full-time mum and used to frequently shop at supermarkets, often with one or both kids in tow. This meant that I was often subject to the typical requests for the sweeter cereals, for biscuits, etc. Now we are doing most of our shopping online, I am no longer subject to so many requests and it is easier to purchase more wisely without pester power. 

On the downside, however, the kids have less opportunities to learn about the shopping process and food ingredients now that they don’t observe it happening. True, they still sometimes see me cook, but it will take longer for the younger one to learn all the names of, for example,  fruits and vegetables. As so often with technology, the challenge will be going forward to make the most of technology whilst overcoming any downsides. Often, however, the downsides are not easy to spot.

With respect to reducing sugar consumption, I believe that it cannot be done by the strength of character of parents alone. I believe that a widespread change in society is needed, including regulation of food manufacturing and sale. If I could wave a magic wand over legislation, my first action would be to disallow sweets and sugary treats at low levels by checkouts. That would be one less pester inducing situation for a parent to negotiate.

It is tradition to say “happy new year”, but this sometimes feels to general for me, so instead I will say that I hope that you have the new year that you want, whether that be happy, peaceful, spiritual, loving, relaxing, carefree, reflective, calming, fun, exciting, connecting, healing, comforting, joyful or maybe something else….