Leading the way in community links

Morpeth Rotarian Derek Robinson gives the vote of thanks to his daughter Lyn Horton, of Leading Link.
Morpeth Rotarian Derek Robinson gives the vote of thanks to his daughter Lyn Horton, of Leading Link.

Morpeth rotary club

Lyn Horton manages a local charity called Leading Link that brings schools and the community together.

It began with a well-funded Government initiative for schools to offer extended services to students between 8am and 8pm. It lasted three years, but then funding stopped. A group in Bedlington thought it was too good to lose and carried on as a social enterprise. In 2011 there were three staff and 12 schools, mainly in south east Northumberland and on the coast. There are now four staff and 18 schools.

Leading Link has been arranging community projects with Northumberland County Council for five years. They involve King Edward VI School, schools in Blyth and Bedlington, and Newcastle College. There is a range of activities, with a Children’s University of Northumberland passport to record activities that students do outside of school.

The biggest problem is that young people do not believe in themselves. They can achieve so much through participation in the community, while learning a range of skills.

There are five categories of project — targeted mentoring; social and community projects; enterprise and transition between schools and to work; youth leadership; and event organising.

The targeted mentoring is in partnership with the council, using ten volunteers. Looked after young people and others with emotional health issues can be referred by the Adolescent Team. Schools have growing demands on pastoral care and this service provides a listening ear for disengaged students. They can move on from mentoring to other projects when ready.

Social and community action projects include a community garden with SITA. A garden was put together in three weeks for the Olympic torch parade through Bedlington. It was linked to the resurrection of the bandstand at Atlee Park, where SITA gave £60,000.

A total of 64 young people enrolled onto the project. It has been going for three years. A few weeks ago, for the first time, there was some vandalism, with planted tubs overturned a week before judging for Bedlington in Bloom. It upset the young people, but they returned and put everything right before the contest.

The charity works with various bodies, including JJ Housing, and has put on a pie and pea supper and limbo and Hawaiian dancing where young people served senior citizens. A band night arranged by one girl raised £250 for charity. Young people can gain a project management certificate that will help in job applications. Other projects were clearing up litter at Blyth, brightening the play area at Plessey Woods Play Group, working on winter events with Woodhorn, volunteering for community events with Active Northumberland, and a long-running project every Saturday to make things with willow and learn crafts.

Recently finished was a series of lantern parades and a mile-long Plessey Wood arts trail with installations open to all and a wheelchair-friendly route. There was a project to provide 300 luminous spiders for an Enchanted Parks event at Saltwell Park.

On enterprise and transition there is much to do as there are not enough jobs for young people.

Two groups of young people got into the national finals of the Idea Awards when they designed digital products. They went to London and were able to question ten millionaire business people, including someone from Microsoft, in speed interviews. Other groups have done well in various enterprise challenges.

A regular idea from school groups is to make local souvenirs, such as a model of Morpeth Clock Tower. They learn about marketing, researching buyers, developing prototypes and can put their ideas to Dragon’s Den types, who ask questions on profit and loss. One school made £120 selling souvenirs at Morpeth Market.

There are discussions on barter, charity giving and gambling, with projects aimed at those Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET).

There are pop-up shops, with five young people running them each time. They have to arrange a display. One called Sugar Rush won a Market Challenge and was still running three years on, with items for sale at Alnwick Garden and in Seahouses.

As part of developing youth leadership, the charity runs outward bound and survival weekends. It has annual BBC Question Time debates on issues decided by young people. Colin Briggs, of the BBC, and MPs including Ian Lavery, give support.

Young people are given skills that will enable them to facilitate events for others. They can also learn circus skills and face painting, and have taken part in Northumberland Live events.

During questions, it was found that the four staff are helped by Youth Ambassadors. The YA project started in 2007 and there are now 54 young people who can help. They are trained on issues such as safeguarding, take part in initiatives including Youth Voices, Youth Parliament and Sound Box Radio, and work with councils.

The Children’s University passport can be stamped for out of school achievements at various places, including Alnwick Garden and leisure centres. Once young people have 30 stamps they are awarded a certificate at a ceremony held twice a year at St James’ Park. It has been going for two years and 800 passports have been issued. Last year 6,000 attended a celebration event at Atlee Park.

The vote of thanks was given by Rotarian Derek Robinson, the speaker’s father.