Football changing lives for years to come
When I first walked into the North of Tyne Combined Authority in May 2019, it comprised a handful of staff and a cavernous office on Cobalt Business Park. I had a manifesto full of promises to deliver, and a small team raring to get cracking.
One of my first meetings was with the Newcastle United Foundation, the charitable arm of Newcastle United (other football teams are available). We met at the disused and derelict Murray House Recreation and Community Centre, a stone’s throw from St James’ Park.
Murray House was built in the 1930s to provide leisure and training opportunities for the men and boys laid off from the shipyards. Rebuilt in the 1970s, footballing legends like Shola Ameobi and hundreds of other youngsters trained there. Then it closed in 2017.
The Newcastle United Foundation, which included Karren Brady and Sarah Medcalf had big ideas for it. They wanted to rebuild Murray House as NUCASTLE, a modern sports facility, with a suite of classrooms championing excellence in education, employment and physical and mental wellbeing. They showed me the architects’ drawings. They had big plans. Which were going to cost big money. Almost £8 million.
I asked whether they had any financial backing agreed? Er…no. Would I mind being first? So NTCA stepped in. This was the first major investment I signed off as Mayor. £2.6 million, nearly a third of the total cost. With our anchor funding in place, they persuaded other investors the project was viable.
But then, having signed it off, you wait. I signed off, with my cabinet, a host of other projects. Offshore wind investment, our culture & creative programme. A slew of job creation programmes.
Fast forward, through the Prorogation of Parliament, the December 2019 General Election, and we’re into the Pandemic. I’d landed our fist big investment creating nearly 1000 jobs, but even they hadn’t recruited the people yet.
The teams at the Combined Authority are working their socks off, but Covid means doing everything from home while we all get used to Zoom.
Everything is still new. Everything is still a ‘work in progress’. And we’re in that no-man’s-land that all new organisations have, where nothing has quite come to fruition yet.
Fast forward again to May 2021, and I get an invitation to ‘sign the steel’ at the NUCASTLE site.
It started to feel real. Something tangible at last for all of the time, effort, and investment expended by my team.
NUCASTLE ‘s work goes way beyond football, sacred though that is in the Toon. And it began way before the site was completed.
At the steel signing, I met a young woman called Katie, and listened to her story. Hers wasn’t an unusual one. To begin with. She’d left school and was unemployed. Her confidence was rock bottom. No job. No self-belief. Then she met NUCASTLE, and did a course funded by them.
By the time I met her, she had a job. She had confidence. She believed she had a future. She was thinking of going to university. All made possible by NUCASTLE, with a little help from their friends at the North of Tyne Combined Authority.
Fast forward again, to last week, and the opening of the state-of-the art hub on Diana Street, a stone’s throw from St James’s Park.
Not only does the hub have rooftop pitches, it also has robot footballs that can be programmed by the people who are using them. Kids might be lured in by the footie, but they’ll stay to learn other skills. Programming the robot footballs increases interest in coding and other tech skills.
It’s about outreach work and helping people get their careers on track. It covers the communities across our region – and it doesn’t matter whether you support Berwick Rangers or Blyth Spartans.
So, if you’re looking to your future, you don’t have to do it alone. There are people who want to help you. The Foundation helped over 26,000 people last year. You can contact NUCASTLE and see what they’ve got to offer at www.nufoundation.org.uk
In partnership with organisations like NUCASTLE, the Combined Authority is proud to help expand people’s horizons.
*Originally printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 4 April 22