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Annual Report

Our contract with Lewisham and transition

In Dec 2019, Youth First responded to a tender from Lewisham Council to deliver youth services in the borough and was confirmed as the “preferred partner” in January 2020. We were negotiating with LBL for an expected April 1st start when the emergence of COVID-19 postponed the contract. Instead, the Council agreed a 12-month “extension with variation” to our original 2016 contract until 31 March 2021. 

This extension included a reduction in value, and an ask for us to do what we could to offer youth work during Covid. This simplicity enabled us to continue during the pandemic, and we want to thank LBL for their forward-thinking at this time.

The extension, however, also prolonged the uncertainty around our future and came with the clear understanding, already evident from the negotiations, that any future contract would be at a significantly reduced value. 

Four converging factors, therefore, triggered an important step to manage the transition of Youth First coined ‘Youth First 2.0’:

  • The end of our main contract and the planned start of a new contract
  • The reduced value of any future contract
  • The emergence of COVID-19
  • The transition to becoming a CIO (a registered charity).

In March 2021, a new four, plus optional two-year extension contract was finally agreed with Lewisham, with delivery commencing from 1 April 2021. Unfortunately, the councils own financial challenges means this is a radically reduced value and their need to ensure support for those most at need also means a broadened ask for this reduced pot. This, in turn, means our delivery to young people has been scaled down with fewer open access sessions offered at all sites and with only 12 months of this reduced offer at adventure playgrounds. The latter is to enable Lewisham to conduct a play review which we will now support. The other exception is Riverside Youth Club which is closed for potential redevelopment.

Positively, the contract is a brave commitment to youth work in Lewisham and Youth First by Lewisham, at a time when many other areas are seeing no investment in what is a non-statutory provision. We, therefore, commend Lewisham for their forward-thinking and trust in Youth First and remain committed to working with them to ensure we put young people first. The contract also sees us add new targeted services such as targeted group work (i.e. non-open access informal education sessions) and a 1-2-1 youth work support offer (from October 2021). For the next year, Youth First will also retain a number or projects that are funded by other partners: a street-based offer funded by Children in Need, the Carnival project at Woodpecker and the USSP youth clubs project, funded by Young Londoners Fund.

Despite the reduction, Lewisham Council’s continued investment means Youth First can continue to exist and provide much needed youth work across the borough, with a platform to grow in the future. Ultimately, Youth First is committed to providing the best possible service for young people in Lewisham, despite these changes.

Youth First 2.0 included a significant restructure to meet the reduced budget in the new contract, which is split into two distinct stages:

  • Phase 1 - Operational restructure
  • Phase 2 - Development & Back-office restructure

Phase 1 is now complete, and we want to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Youth First for their hard work and commitment during this difficult period. A special thank you and good luck to team members who have left the organisation as part of this process - we wish everyone success in the coming months.