By Ben Robinson, Sam Bruce, Sophia Worringer and Mark Libby
In 2022 the CSJ Foundation opened a new office in the Northeast of England. To connect inspirational organisations working in areas of high deprivation and their stories, to the corridors of Westminster.
This week, three colleagues from the CSJ’s London office were fortunate enough to be the regional office’s first visitors; engaging with eight separate organisations based in Stockton, Sunderland, Durham, Spennymoor, Newcastle and Gateshead.
While each place had its own distinct and captivating story, there were evident common motifs that emerged over and again during the visits. As one charity leader said, ‘Each person who uses our services is an individual with unique challenges, but they all have so much in common.’
Firstly, numerous leaders spoke of inter-generational unemployment and the challenges involved in overcoming this. Employment opportunities and aspirations were often cited as a barrier, as was a lack of access to support for those who were ‘furthest’ from the labour market. In many cases this lack of support was exacerbating mental health issues and preventing the most vulnerable from realising their potential.
Unsurprisingly, the cost-of-living crisis was mentioned in every conversation during the visit. One charity leader shared with us the impact saying, ‘We now have people who used to help run our service, bringing in food for the community for example, who now rely on it. That is the real impact of the cost-of-living crisis.’ So many anecdotes from the visits indicated that the cohort of people reliant on Alliance organisations was growing, and many families who were barely surviving the pandemic are now on very much on the brink. Additionally, the CSJ has long championed the importance of family networks and community. The view from the frontlines was clear during these visits; the power of community is immense. Back On the Map, based in Hendon, Sunderland, shared with us the range of services they provide for the community and the importance they place on community spirit and pride. Furthermore, Livin (based in Spennymoor, Durham) shared their insights on the importance of consulting and collaborating with communities in order to truly empower them while avoiding potentially harmful top-down approaches.
Finally, during our visit we heard and saw the issue of empty homes, some with boarded-up windows, one even missing a roof. As one charity leader said, ‘Housing can be a vehicle for personal development and fulfilment,’ showing the importance of availability of suitable housing. Community Campus 87 told us more about this issue in Stockton and shared with us how this could and should change.
While in other regions of the UK, land price is a major factor driving housing issues, in the Northeast land value is less of an acute issue, but quality of supply is. This means it is often cheaper for out-of-town investors to build completely new developments on the edge of the cities rather than renovate properties in town centres. This leaves many of the town centers we visited feeling bereft of investment which in turn fuels crime, social disengagement and a fracturing of community cohesion.
The Centre for Social Justice’s policy work is permanently in debt to the frontline perspectives of our network of Alliance charities. Who effectively not only shine a light on what must change but show a way to achieve this. The CSJ would like to thank Home Group, Community Campus 87, Oasis Community Housing, Back On The Map, Livin, NUCastle and Changing Lives for their invaluable insights and generous welcome. We certainly look forward to working further with all these fantastic organisations in the future.