THIS IS THE VIEW looking up the hill outside the building where I work. The charity, the Young Person’s Advisory Service in Liverpool city centre, has been supporting children, young people and families on Merseyside for 46 years, in premises that have supported child welfare for over a century.
It is a quaint, charming and eccentric building, with doors and stairs and corridors seeming to appear in every direction. It reminds me of the Crooked House from childhood visits to the Fun Fair. It has a homely feel – one young person I work with has said she would like to live there.
I have worked there for seven years, my longest time with one employer, so they (and I!) must be doing something right! The last four years have been tough though, and the charity has come a little too close to closure for comfort on at least one occasion.
I began as a youth support worker on a casual basis in 2005, gradually increasing my hours and responsibility until I was asked to lead the LGBT youth project and go full-time in summer 2009. On the day I received my new employment contract to sign, I was summoned to an emergency meeting to learn that the director of the charity had been arrested for sexual offences and the charity would be investigated to ensure that no child or young person in our care had been harmed or put at risk.
The charity was rigorously inspected by the Charity Commission, our funders and commissioners, and a national children’s charity, and fortunately no evidence of risk or harm was found. Our safeguarding procedures were robust enough to minimise potential harm from someone who was found guilty of serious assault and possession of indecent images of children. Had any neglect or harm been discovered, the charity would certainly have been shut down.
While we were recovering from the impact of those revelations, it emerged that the director had also been negligent in managing the charity’s finances and sustaining its services. Though some concerns were raised before his sudden departure, the full extent was not revealed until afterwards. A rigorous audit and tighter regulation by the new Chief Executive and management committee limited the damage, and prepared the charity to weather the next storm.
In 2010 following the election of a new government and economic recession, the local authority’s budget was dramatically reduced and a five-year plan of ‘austerity measures’ was introduced. As most of the charity’s income was derived from local authority grants and commissioned services, and some seconded staff, it has been vulnerable. Several staff lost their jobs and some services have been suspended subject to finding new funding. The charity could have been wound up if it were not for a couple of successful grant applications from funds set up to assist organisations heavily impacted by Government cuts.
We are not out of the woods, as cuts to funding continue. But for 2013, things are looking up!
We have diversified our funding and are exploring creative and ambitious ways to develop existing services, reviving those in limbo and launching new initiatives as we look forward to celebrating 50 years of serving the children, young people and families of Merseyside