Interview with Tracey Wallace, Development Director
Tracey’s background includes working in the further education sector as a Lecturing Course Leader and also previously starting up and running her own floristry business from the age of 20 through a start-up grant from the Prince’s Trust. Tracey also volunteered in youth clubs from the age of 15, in particular, working with children with disabilities.
What are the objects of the charity?
The charity exists to act as a focus point for young people (aged 18-30) in the community of Gateshead and provides support and assistance to those with learning difficulties who want to lead independent lives and find access to employment, by improving employment skills and providing personal development programmes
When and why was the charity set up?
Young people with mild to moderate learning difficulties moving out of local authority secondary education in the Gateshead area lacked opportunity and funding to further their development via adult services. Prior to the establishment of this charity, Tracey had also previously been commissioned by the local authority to work with young people with learning difficulties but in 2014, the funding ran out and there was no other local provision for these young people and parents of these young people had little knowledge of where their children could go from here. Tracey and some of the parents set up the charity, both as an entity to provide ongoing development opportunities for these young people and as a support network for the parents and carers.
What is the structure of the charity?
The charity benefits from a strong governance and management structure:
· An 8-member management committee, including 2 of the beneficiary young people, parents, community engagement officers and business community representatives
· 22 volunteers
· 4 part-time employees
Where does the charity operate from?
The charity operates from 2 secure rooms contained within a dance studio complex. The charity has exclusive use of its rooms and so can retain a consistent environment for its beneficiary young people. For example, it will have posters and certificates up about its work so that it can reinforce the positive learning that has previously been achieved.
It has also set up a small garden area to bolster its wellbeing offer to beneficiaries.
What does the charity do?
Initially the charity was established to provide young people with the necessary skills to apply for and secure paid employment, such as application form completion, letter and CV writing skills and interview techniques. As part of its success, the charity has helped 15 young people gain paid employment.
However, the charity has now developed and broadened its programme of activities to encapsulate personal development, health and wellbeing, community engagement and life skills. Examples of the courses that the charity now offers its young people include cooking, first-aid and financial awareness, as well as its core provision of on the job work placements.
With the make-up of the management committee now inclusive of the beneficiary young people, in role titles such as Director, the programmes and activities that the charity provides to its young people is driven by the young people themselves. This inclusiveness was born out of the beneficiary young people stating that they often felt like “square pegs in round holes” in other settings and that they wanted to have a voice.
What impact has the Covid19 pandemic had on the charity?
2020 was a year that the charity had planned to cement and build upon its community engagement activities. This, in part, was driven by their beneficiary young people having been the victims of bullying and hate crime but also, in part, by a desire generally to raise awareness of learning difficulties within the local community and beyond. The charity has found that people are unaware of how learning difficulties can affect individuals or for example, how there can be variations in the behaviours and characteristics of people on the autistic spectrum.
To that end, funded by UK Youth, the charity had just embarked upon a programme of providing a free after-school club for Yrs 7 & 8 school children from a local academy trust. Here, the charity’s beneficiary young people made and served hot meals and organised and facilitated activities for the children.
In addition, the beneficiaries arrange and hold community lunches for older members of the community. Here, the beneficiary young people conducted presentations about their learning, their activities and their successes.
These activities were helping to develop community awareness of the charity, as well as more broadly creating knowledge, understanding and empathy about learning difficulties. While the activities had created a positive learning environment for the visitors, they had also helped to encourage, challenge and inspire the beneficiary young people.
Unfortunately, the pandemic meant the closure of their premises and the temporary curtailment of these activities. It also meant that the programmes attended by the beneficiary young people were no longer available. The charity simply had to improvise, as many of its beneficiary young people require routine, structure and minimum disruption.
Initially funded from their own unrestricted funds, the charity resolved to provide a programme of online courses at set times, on set days. With some financial backing from the National Lottery Community Fund, the charity now delivers live online courses to its beneficiaries. Again, the charity has also broadened its offer by including peer mentoring courses, social chat sessions and quizzes run by the beneficiary young people. There is also facility to have 1 to 1 sessions too.
What are the plans for post-Covid19?
The plans remain largely the same for this small charity. Once they are able to get their beneficiaries back into the premises so that they can deliver their courses face to face, they will need to assess any welfare or wellbeing issues that have arisen among their beneficiary young people. The charity will take time to re-introduce and re-establish its core offer before then continuing with its community engagement programme.
The charity’s funding partners, such as the local Community Foundation, have kindly extended funding deadlines and outcome requirements but there is still much work to be done.