August 4, 2020
Leigh Elliott, interim chief executive at Children North East, the region’s longest established independent children’s charity, hasn’t always worked in the third sector. Her past employers include Northumbria Police and Rolls Royce where she worked in finance and the John Lewis Partnership where she was an HR section manager. Leigh joined Children North East in 2004, was promoted to deputy CEO in 2016, and has headed up the charity since August last year. She has been a chair of governors in schools, served on several Northumberland County Council committees representing children and young people and is now vice-chair of trustees at the Ashington Learning Partnership Trust
I was born in Ashington, Northumberland in the 1970s, which was a lovely friendly mining community. In 1984, it was hit by the miners’ strike. My dad was a policeman at the time and would be at one side of the picket line while our friends and family were on the other. He was there trying to protect people but we all understood why they were there. I witnessed friends and families thrown into poverty and the devastation it caused within their homes. It made me realise that a child never chooses to live in poverty. It’s not because they have uncaring parents, it’s forced upon them through injustice. That’s why I work for Children North East. Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the ‘era of austerity’, the third sector has faced difficult challenges. We saw an increased demand for services set against a reduction in public sector funding while fundraising donations were also dropping sharply.
Around 75 per cent of our charity’s income used to come from the public sector so when local authorities announced millions of pounds worth of spending cuts, that put great pressure on charities. At the same time, charitable giving in the UK decreased dramatically with £1.7 billion less in 2011/12 compared to the previous year.
Nobody could have anticipated COVID-19 and the socio-economic chaos it would create. Children have not been the face of this pandemic in that, thankfully, they’ve been largely spared from the direct health effects of the virus, but the crisis is still having a profound impact on their wellbeing. Domestic violence, food poverty and the digital divide have all increased and our services are needed more than ever. At the same time, the crisis has decimated charity fundraising, with events like the London Marathon and GNR cancelled. We’re an agile organisation and have quickly adapted our services to address our beneficiaries’ current needs by delivering food parcels, school resources, computer tablets and by setting up a new domestic abuse helpline as well as continuing to provide our usual services in different ways.
The rise in demand on the third sector against a backdrop of financial pressures is a worrying prospect for all local communities. We’re lucky to be supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. In the past 12 years, they’ve raised more than £2.4 million to support the babies, children, young people and families we help. Their funding, along with other grant providers, is vital as households in our region – one of the most deprived in the UK – will have less to spend in the foreseeable future. Further decreases in public spending will also increase the need for volunteers to support people and services in their communities. Next year is the 130th anniversary of Children North East and ensuring the health and wellbeing of our region’s children has never been more important. We are determined to be here for the young people already being referred to as ‘generation COVID’. We must not let them down.
Children North East