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Annual Report 2018/19

Summary of year and a look at the year ahead by CEO

Our third year of operations was also the final year of our initial core funding contract with London borough of Lewisham, what we might call YF1.0. In actuality this year ended up becoming 19 months with Lewisham requesting a seven month extension to our current contract to take us to 31st March 2020. We have therefore covered this full period in this report.

When YF was founded back in 2016 it was done in the hope that even if austerity continued and in a climate where nationally youth and play work was being decimated we could protect Lewisham’s delivery whilst lowering the cost to the borough by 15%.  Looking back now we have achieved far more than this initial aim, not only retaining delivery and meeting the saving requested but as the evidence of this report shows for 2018/19, growing and improving the service as measured both against attendance - individuals reached and those attending regularly - and by the breadth of our offer. This broadening of our offer has seen us innovate to meet the changing needs of young people in Lewisham, to do so with funding (c£900k) that previously, as a local government service, we could have never earned and to do so at a pace that eluded the in house youth service.

This has included:

  • adding new services such as a street based offer, a youth club in the town centre, an informal life skills education program for schools (USSP) and walking buses for our junior groups,
  • various new and dynamic weekly sessions such as Parkour lessons at TNG and Riverside and gym and mental health support at a number of sites
  • introducing a trauma based approach across our delivery which far exceeded the support staff were given as part of LBL.  This in turn has enabled us to respond powerfully and timely to community tragedies
  • multiple community and service wide events such as the wildly successful talent showcases
  • greatly improved staff training including a strong online offer and regular inset weeks
  • adopting new communication and branding methods far ahead of what we inherited
  • all whilst sensibly and transparently managing our finances at a 15% reduced cost to the council

In actuality what we have achieved could fill far more than this introduction to the third annual report affords, yet what links them all, and what I believe represents our real achievement, the single thing that we should all be most proud of, is ensuring young people have continued exposure to brilliant and dedicated professional youth and play workers and doing so during an increasingly difficult financial climate and whilst helping the council save money. This has been a whole team effort and a day does not go by when I am proud to work alongside every single member of Youth First including our brilliant board, volunteers, back office, management and of course frontline staff. Thank you all for your passion and dedication.

Of course despite our success the first three years have not been without challenges, mistakes and learning and as we move forward we have no time for hubris or to rest on our laurels. The financial environment, especially post the CV19 crisis which we are in the midst of as I write, will undoubtedly be even tighter. LBL still face ongoing austerity and financial strain which has already led to a new tender £400,000 less than our current contract (£1m less than in 2016) and with a far broader and more targeted ask. Despite election promises and two All party parliamentary reports (APPGs) that recommended it we are yet to see any increased investment in or move to add a statutory requirement for youth and play services from central government. The potential for other income, from charitable fund raising and business opportunities in the context of what is likely to be a severe national recession will be even more fraught with uncertainty and difficulty. The challenge ahead is therefore how, within this extremely challenging context, we successfully move from YF1.0 to a YF2.0 set up to survive for the long term.

To this end we must heed the advice of given to us in the National Youth Agency deep dive report and mature our organisational culture so that we can adapt ever more quickly and continually to meet the changing needs of young people and become more competitive to access the fewer potential income options. Options that will very likely take new focuses post CV19 from those in the pre CV19 world including a greater focus on health and employment outcomes.  

To do this every single one of us will need to be prepared to make difficult choices that put survival of the organisation, not just for another three or four years but well in to the future, ahead of any hope of holding onto a past that no longer exists.

This challenge includes addressing some of the more intractable challenges of the past three years such as:

  • improving the site’s infrastructure, much of which, such as the APG structures need considerable investment to remain open in the near to midterm future.
  • improving our ICT so that it is a helpful tool for our work rather than the costly and frustrating block it has often represented.
  • continuing to adapt our offer to ensure we reach those young people who need our support the most and find ways to demonstrate the impact of this offer. To use this impact information to nimbly alter what we do where it is not working and push for more funding where it demonstrably does work.
  • tackling the awkward issues surrounding our two tier workforce

We must come together and not be afraid to try new things, to draw on ideas from across our team and young people and from outside YF, looking to partnerships and collaboration where beneficial. We will undoubtedly have to make some tough choices to ensure we survive and the move to YF2.0 and the tasks that lie ahead in the next 12 to 24 months will be difficult. However, based on the past three years and most immediately our amazing adaption during the CV19 crisis, I am confident that we can and will do what is required and will ensure that this report represents the end of our chapter as YF1.0 and the start of YF2.0 which exists to serve our community of young people long in to the future.