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Annual Report 2018/19

A message from our interim Chair

My year as interim Chair began with the retirement of our founding Chair, Sir Ian Mills and it seems appropriate therefore for me to start this introduction to our 2018/19 Annual report by once again thanking Sir Ian for his support and dedication to Youth First during our formative years.  As Vice Chair and at the behest of the board, I became Interim Chair in May 2019.  During this time I have continued to be impressed by the offer to young people from YF and the hard work and passion of our staff that make this possible. This report is a tribute to this. For myself, highlights of the year included:

  • The work we began in the early summer in partnership with the National Youth Agency (NYA) to review our strategy and develop new approaches for: developing our workforce; increasing our fundraising; managing our infrastructure; and improving our governance. This work helped inform our successful bid for a renewal of contract to continue to provide for youth services across Lewisham;
  • The excellent summer programme provided by our youth and play workers.  As NEDs, we don’t get to see the work on the ground as often as we would like, but last summer I was impressed by the sensitive and professional work taking place in our youth projects where we offer universal services to up to 40,000 Lewisham youth. I spoke to both the young people and their parents - some of whom told me are services are a lifeline;  
  • Starting negotiations with Lewisham Council on a future contract. These are challenging discussions about delivering with less resources while aiming to retain at least the same or better quality.  So, our approach has been ‘less but better’, working towards a mix of universal and more targeted services and through constructive engagement in discussions we aim to keep the welfare of our young people at the forefront of any future service design.
  • Witnessing the support of major stakeholders in our work, including the Lewisham Director of Children's Services, the Mayor and Lead Member for Children's Services. The support too from those Head Teachers has helped us provide a seamless service for young people from school to 'after school' activities provided by YF.  And of course, the work of our contracted delivery partners.  Without the support of these partners our reach and impact would be greatly reduced.
  • More regular liaison between the NED group and our Employee Directors on Board matters. This has helped my NED colleagues and I have a better understanding of issues and concerns from staff’s perspective and to hear ideas for improvement straight from the front line.  As we move to full charitable status in increase our fundraising ability, this principle of staff engagement is something to be protected. It has been inspiring too to hear our Youth Directors share their views. Having young people on our Board is an innovation we are proud to have introduced but we know we need to keep exploring better ways of engaging our young people and their parents in the design and of our services.
  • Working more closely, as Interim Chair, with our experienced and dedicated CEO on his return from a long illness as he leads, with passion and insight, our organisation into its next phase  And, prior to that, working with the acting CEO who made such a remarkable impact in the short months she was covering that role. 
  • Seeing, in more recent weeks, the incredible adaptability of our staff and the senior team in response to the Covid 19 emergency. As we contribute to the borough wide efforts to support the safety and well-being of our young people I am humbled by the sterling efforts of the whole staff team; 
  • It has been a privilege to work with all my fellow Directors who bring their time and energy to the organisation.  Last spring, we welcomed three new NEDs with combined expertise in the law and regional and national youth and play policy.  I am pleased that we about to welcome a new Board Chair who brings formidable health sector experience, and to whom I will hand over from my Interim Chair role.  We are also introducing two new Board members with backgrounds in finance and infrastructure.  Along with our two founding NEDs - an experienced local councillor and a talented entrepreneur, I am confident we have a rich mix of skills to ensure strong governance of our organisation.

Both the achievements that you will read about, and the recent Covid-related challenges, has shown us that we are best when we are nimble, innovative, unafraid to adapt and resilient. This is especially important in what may be an even more challenging future financial climate for all public and voluntary sector organisations. But new opportunities are there if we look for them and are bold enough to grasp them. Our forward-looking review with the NYA and our strategic Futures Report have helped us prepare for these new possibilities. Key to this will be working in closer collaboration with stakeholders and delivery partners, especially those in health and education, to give better and more joined-up support to Lewisham youth. Most importantly, we must ensure the diverse voices of young people informs all that we do.

I commend this annual report to you, urge you to read it and hope you enjoy it.  I thank our CEO and all the Youth First staff for the service you will read about in these pages.  We are not complacent. I know we will quickly turn our focus, as a whole organisation, to the challenges ahead, and do so with a great deal of pride in the successes of Youth First in its first 3 years.


Paula McDonald CBE
Interim Chair