Newcastle United Foundation: Tackling the pandemic

August 18, 2020

Inside St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United, and its official charity arm – Newcastle United Foundation – things are getting back to normal, or at least, the ‘new normal’. With the 2019/20 Premier League season sewn up, the club is preparing for its next top-flight campaign. Meanwhile, the foundation is focusing on the future with staff hard at work in the city’s communities, ensuring this generation will not be left behind without the employment, education or training to realise their potential

In any given year, Newcastle United Foundation will support more than 66,000 people – from disadvantaged children and unemployed young adults, to vulnerable elderly individuals and disabled teenagers with a passion for football.

The charity operates with more than 100 full-time team members and another 63 sessional staff, serving in schools, sports facilities and businesses from Berwick to County Durham. But since the spring, things have been a little different.

A galvanised workforce saw colleagues deliver beyond their regular programme of community work, health and wellbeing campaigns, learning and skills projects and football development courses.

Newcastle United Foundation worked with its partners to deliver food parcels in Byker, created mental wellbeing materials for Newcastle’s NHS employees, began regularly telephoning elderly participants to combat isolation loneliness and led PE lessons in schools for the children of key workers.

Since March, these relief efforts have already touched more than 14,500 people and it is clear so many more will need guidance to navigate their new normal.

With such an uncertain future ahead, the foundation has been pushing hard to sustain its mission to inspire and equip young men and women to find employment.

According to a recent report published by the Resolution Foundation, there were 750,000 young adults in the UK not in education, employment or training (NEET) pre-lockdown.

The report predicts that a further 600,000 could find themselves without work in a post-COVID world.

In the North of Tyne area, unemployment is particularly high among young people at more than double the national average for 16 to 19-year-olds.

With the economic downturn from COVID-19 starting to be felt nationwide, the North of Tyne is likely to remain one of the hardest hit areas of the UK.

However, as a key player in promoting inclusion, employability and education, Newcastle United Foundation aims to play a prominent role in tackling youth unemployment, as it continues to bring together young people with employers, narrowing inequalities, and ensuring that young people have a stake in the region’s future.

The foundation ordinarily engages NEET 18 to 29-year-olds by inviting them to St James’ Park for one-to-one support with a dedicated employability 80 coach or regular engagement and integration into wider interventions.

Foundation staff also speak to jobseekers at networking events and fairs and regularly offer support to participants at the foundation’s Street Football sessions. A growing North East-wide network of more than 150 businesses across a range of sectors are now involved with the charity.

They work in partnership with the foundation to inspire young candidates lacking confidence or social skills into their industry through work placement schemes, mock interview sessions, inspirational talks and site visits.

Since 2016, the foundation has worked with 500 NEET young people, with more than half securing a job outcome or apprenticeship. And, despite interruptions to site visits or jobs fairs, the foundation’s employability team have continued to engage participants digitally to ensure that young people who may be among the most vulnerable to the isolating effects of lockdown still have access to opportunities within education, training or the world of work.

During this time, foundation staff were proud to have helped guide seven men and women into employment.

Tyla Anderson, Kayleigh Archbold, Jack Carter, Liam Hession, Charlotte Hutchinson and Joe Peterson have been offered a range of full, part-time and temporary positions and are now proudly working in the NHS and retail sectors.

Kayleigh and Tyla are employed as NHS contact centre and admin staff while Liam is working with Morrisons supermarket and Charlotte with the Co-op.

David Phillipson, from West Denton, began his journey into employment with the foundation last year, starting to build skills and his CV with a work experience placement at B&M.

He impressed so much during his trial that he was offered a permanent contract immediately.

The 22-year-old says: “Being a key worker during the pandemic has been a really important experience for me personally and for my career. It has been a challenging time for everyone and especially people like me who might not have had steady work to rely on without the workshops and sessions I attended with the foundation.

“The team didn’t stop supporting me when I starting working last year – I’m still in contact with everyone who helped me and they gave me the confidence to get my career going with my first job.”

The foundation’s business network is always included in the conversation and Kris Avery, store manager at SuperDry in Gateshead’s intu Metrocentre is one of the employers helping the next generation by joining Zoom calls to teenagers and young adults with the charity.

“Being able to join a session with the foundation about getting young people into work during such a confusing time was incredible,” he says.

“It allowed us to talk about how we are using our time to better ourselves and not just sit and wait for things to be handed to us. The guys on the course are the embodiment of that and it was brilliant to hear the many things they were doing to stay focused on their goal of gaining employment.”

Overseeing the foundation’s vision for the future is Steve Beharall, who was officially appointed as the charity’s head in February.

With more than 20 years’ of experience in football and sports development, Steve has worked from the grassroots up.

He says: “Prior to the pandemic, we had spent 12 months preparing our 2020/23 Business Plan, which presents us with an exciting period, including the creation of our capital project.

“I am conscious that we will need to respond to the needs of our community however, and fortunately, we have a vast portfolio of programmes and a proven track record in delivering community interventions that have a real, lasting impact.

“An exciting addition to that will be our NU Futures department, which will scale over the coming years to support communities into 81 work, providing career advice, mentoring and support-led by our inspirational project officers, community coaches and programme coordinators.”

Last month, Newcastle United Foundation also had its planning application approved to build a state-of-the-art community hub for education, sports and wellbeing on the former site of Murray House community centre in Newcastle’s West End, which will also deliver the ambitious NU Futures scheme.

The move to a new, dedicated home has been a long-term project for the charity, which has been based in St. James’ Park since its inception 12 years ago.

Award-winning Newcastle-based Ryder Architecture designed the hub, which will incorporate a 4G rooftop pitch offering views of St. James’ Park, innovative classrooms, a high-tech digital hub, a four-court sports hall, a smart fitness suite with accessible changing areas, event and meeting spaces and open-plan offices.

Ryder was appointed to produce detailed proposals for the build after the foundation received a £2.6 million investment from the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) to transform the way that young people move from education into the world of work, via NU Futures.

Construction is expected to get underway in Autumn 2020, with doors opening to the public a year later when children, families, retirees, schools, community groups and businesses can use the innovative space, which will be situated next to Newcastle Helix, the landmark 24-acre hybrid city quarter in the centre of Newcastle for international tech and science businesses and residents.

Much like the Helix, the NU Futures project will support the creation of new jobs and help overcome skills shortages. Happily, the North of Tyne economy is changing, with a growing demand for a higher skilled workforce; between 2009 and 2015, employment growth in North of Tyne was greater than both the wider North East region and the national average.

NTCA and Newcastle United Foundation are primarily investing in some 12,000 young people currently in education, aged 11 to 16, as well as NEET young adults aged 16 to 25, to ensure they are equipped to gain employment leading to fulfilling careers.

Digital, financial and professional business services, as well as STEM occupations, will be at the heart of the NU Futures programme, preparing the next generation of high-skilled workers in the North East.

Steve adds: “It might be surprising that our participants and staff work closely with employers in the scientific and banking sectors, as well as the emergency services and construction industry, to name a few.

“We are always interested in connecting with businesses across the North East – no matter their industry, we enjoy a number of innovative relationships with like-minded organisations.

“We want to grow our employer network to over 240 by next year to ensure we continue to support disadvantaged young people to gain employment.”

As we all move into a post-pandemic recovery phase and the new normal, the foundation will continue to work with the public and private sectors to unlock the talent of every individual, giving young people the confidence and skills to thrive in the future.

Newcastle United Foundation

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