Guest post by Amanda Hannen (VONNE)
Gateshead Community Network (GCN) supports local people to have a voice in the planning, delivery and decision making of all services for the public. It is open to all residents of Gateshead and to voluntary and community sector groups who want to have an influence on the decisions that affect them and their communities.
Following a 20% cut in funding from Gateshead Council, Gateshead Community Network is restricted in its ability to deliver the Junior Network, which engages children and young people in decision making.
In the past, the Junior Network has worked with primary schools throughout Gateshead, running conferences around themes linked to Gateshead Strategic Partnership’s Vision 2030 – The Sustainable Community Strategy for Gateshead. Through these conferences and events, young people get to learn about what the council and its partners are doing and to feed in their views. Mark Shilcock, a Community Development Officer at the Gateshead Community Network, said:
“One of our previous conferences focused on democracy. We held a ‘Question Time’ style debate where councillors addressed questions posed by the young people. Afterwards, the councillors said it was the hardest question and answer session they’d ever had!”
In the past, the Junior Network has influenced policy to reflect the needs of children and young people in Gateshead.
“We surveyed 5-11 year olds in primary schools on internet access. Within 7 days we received over 700 responses back. These were used by the Local Authority in their Young People’s Plan. Because we’ve got the connections and the regular contact with the schools it’s something we can do quickly and effectively. Without a fully-functioning Junior Network, this will be much more difficult to achieve.”
The added value of the Junior Network is that the teachers who attend the conferences with the young people also gain from sharing experiences and knowledge with colleagues in other part so the borough.
Whilst Gateshead Community Network are exploring ways of providing a limited Junior Network over the coming months, they believe that further funding is needed to provide full opportunities for the young people to participate and to provide meaningful engagement in decision making locally.