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Tyneside Council of Social Service – Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service – Connected Voice

As we approach the end of our 90th anniversary year, we have summarised 90 years of action in just eleven key points. We've also collated memories from those who worked with and for our organisation since 1955:

  1. In 1924, a conference in Newcastle on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship, inspired a small group of people to form a society to promote ‘a healthy and well informed opinion on social questions’ in Tyneside. This established ‘The Bureau of Social Research for Tyneside’ in 1925. The ‘Tyneside’ region studied included Newburn, Newcastle, Wallsend, Gosforth, Whitley Bay and Tynemouth on the north side of the river and Blaydon, Whickham, Gateshead, Felling, Hebburn, Jarrow and South Shields on the south side. Over the next few years, this group of people carried out research to produce a comprehensive social survey of the region ‘Industrial Tyneside’, the first ever social survey of a British conurbation. The shocking information highlighted within the research led to the establishment of ‘a council of social service for a wide area embracing rich towns and poor towns’ in 1929.  This was part of a national movement of ‘Councils of Social Service’, which was formed after the First World War in 1918.
  1. During that first decade (the 1930s), a lot of the work focussed on addressing the obvious poverty but also setting up organisations and activities to enable local communities (geographical and thematic) to run services and facilities themselves. As well as the inevitable soup kitchens, this included the first ever community centre in Britain at Hebburn. The ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’ in Gateshead – the fore-runner of Legal Aid and Citizens Advice, and the Northumberland Association of Boys Clubs; closely followed by Girls Clubs! A lot of the work inevitably tackled unemployment and skills development – the boat built by unemployed men, the Mutual Service Clubs (for men) and the summer holiday breaks for women. This was all done through volunteering.
  1. The war period can be characterised as ‘Working for Victory’ – setting up information centres, clothing appeals, shifting from welfare working to services, 3,000 women begin classes in ‘make do and mend’. There was a network of ‘friendly visitors’ for older people and over-60s clubs at Murray House. 1,500 young people are involved in youth clubs and the Boys Brigade. We ran 18 Citizen Advice Bureaux, which answer about 48,000 queries a year throughout the war. We issued (and we still have a copy) of the Handbook for ‘gardeners, allotment holders and keepers of livestock’.
  1. After the War, although the welfare state played a bigger role in improving people’s lives, our organisation developed further to meet the new and different social needs, including the development of 34 women’s clubs, 52 over-60s clubs and more than a hundred ‘old people welfare committees’. These eventually formed part of Age UK. There was more focus on family care and we provided intensive rehabilitation work with families. In 1959 the Rendezvous Club ‘for lonely people’ attracted more than 70 people at its first meeting
  1. Our work in the 1960s mirrored a changing society. We let out room in our premises in Ellison Place to other tenants (CAB, Marriage Guidance Council, and SSAFA) and became a ‘social services centre’. We opened a Social Workers Training Unit that offered fieldwork training for 166 social work students in its first ten years. Our 1964 conference on homelessness inspired the creation of a women’s Hostel in Wentworth Place, in Newcastle. We established and supported multiple pre-school playgroups, particularly as many families were moved into newly built Council flats and high-rise blocks. There was more focus on young people, our Young Volunteers Committee opened its adventure playground in Byker in 1967.
  1. In 1974, the organisation became the Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service with a much greater emphasis on advice and development support to voluntary and community organisations in Newcastle. There was more focus on place and theme with the establishment of the Byker Project with an office in Raby Street. We set up the ‘Newcastle upon Tyne Council for The Disabled’ and associated sports clubs, which today is better known as Disability North. We launched the Volunteer Bureau and Volunteer Job Shop in Benwell. We organised the Inner City Forum which ran for many years, not just supporting groups, but also advising and influencing local and central government, focussing on regeneration and environmental schemes. We supported the establishment of the Race Equality Council.  In 1974 we became a core tenant in MEA House, a purpose built centre for Newcastle charities, where we stayed for nearly 40 years.
  1. Our work in the 1980s reflected some of our work thirty years earlier, with innovative projects addressing the increase in unemployment, financial difficulties for local people, the running down of the welfare state. We set up a Credit Union development project which established a number of credit unions across the city. We ran the Blakelaw Project offering locally based antenatal, health and childcare activities in an area with minimal formal health facilities (a precursor to Surestart). There were more projects associated with equality and diversity and our self-help project contributed to a weekly column in the Evening Chronicle.  There was much greater emphasis on people doing things for themselves. We provided the development work and support and governance to the newly emerging Community Foundation.
  1. The 1990s saw us move into providing more formalised and professional services; in 1993 we set up a trading company called Ellison Services (now Charity Business Services), offering specialist and affordable finance services to the sector (and gifting all surplus back to the parent charity). Over the last 25 years this has provided support to hundreds of local charities, many of whom would have otherwise folded.  We recognised the need for advocacy for vulnerable people and established our comprehensive advocacy services. Similarly we identified a need for carers support and from our initial work, Newcastle Carers was established and it continues to be a thriving and independent charity today. Our support services helped set many independent charities which have a local and national reach today
  1. The new millennium brought a greater focus on partnership working, particularly with the City Council, our work on the Compact (which was nationally recognised), representation on Newcastle City Council Committees and Boards, working more closely with the NHS, setting up the Newcastle LINK and investing in high quality information and support services. We took advantage of new funding streams and ran a number of projects. The focus on regeneration and employment continued and we did a substantive amount of policy work and supported voluntary sector representatives on many formal boards.  
  1. The last decade reflects the work we did in the 1930s and 1980s in supporting local people and communities in hard times. Our work in setting up the Blue Stone Consortium and running the Fulfilling Lives programme was recognised nationally. We significantly expanded our advocacy and other services to help mitigate the worst impact of Welfare Reforms. We worked with Charitable Foundations, Trusts, the National Lottery and the City Council to bring additional investment into Newcastle. We established Healthwatch Newcastle, merged with SkillsBridge and HAREF, and worked more closely with the NHS and the universities. We were invited to provide infrastructure support to voluntary and community organisations in Gateshead, and subsequently won the tender to provide this in the future. We have moved much of our support onto a digital platform, whilst still running networks and organising events and training.
  1. This history deliberately doesn’t refer to the many thousands of people who have contributed to the work of Connected Voice over the years. We thank them but our legacy is the people and communities we have supported, either directly or through setting up or helping other organisations to flourish. We are part of the wonderful quilt that is the voluntary and community sector and we provide not just some of the material and filling but also the thread.


Memories from 1955 to the present

Over the last few months, we have pulled countless fascinating stories from the archive to help tell our story. It’s also interesting to add a personal perspective so we decided to talk to a number of people who worked for and with Connected Voice (formerly Newcastle CVS) in the last fifty years. We asked them about their roles, the key challenges faced by the organisation and the communities we supported at the time, and how all of this influenced their later career.

We were impressed with the detail and variety of stories we received from people who have gone on to make significant contributions to our sector both regionally and nationally. These memories not only offer an insight into what life was like for local organisations and communities but also share useful advice that still applies today.

Read Our Story: Memories from 1955 to 2019