We’re laying the Groundwork for a better future

The energy crisis, rising levels of poverty and environmental concerns are all topics dominating the news headlines. As the nation starts to grapple with these issues, one charity operating across the North East and Cumbria is better placed than most, as it has been championing the fight for over 30 years. Environmental and community charity Groundwork North East & Cumbria was set up to tackle the issues of poverty, improve prospects and deliver environmental action in communities across the region. Its new chief executive, Steven Roberts has described the current situation as Groundwork’s agenda coming home
For years, Groundwork North East & Cumbria has started each new year taking a long hard look at the organisation, analysing the charity, defining goals and setting key themes in a bid to foster greater understanding and secure funding.

Developing our annual plan often felt torturous, trying to reinvent ourselves, and be innovative in our efforts to explain our work, the issues and to attract funders.

But in today’s economic and social climate, where the themes of poverty, deprivation and climate and ecological crisis are widely discussed and understood, we no longer need to explain ourselves.

Our goals for 2023 and beyond are shaped by these issues.

Our founding principle of bringing together communities, businesses and government to improve the quality of life and promote sustainable development in disadvantaged communities remains as relevant today as it did when we first launched, and continues to underpin our future action plan.

Indeed, one of our key objectives for 2023 is to continue connecting people with nature in their local communities. This has been fundamental to Groundwork since the beginning. It is now widely understood that mental health and wellbeing are improved through being outdoors and connecting to nature.

As the cost of living crisis deepens, we recognise the crucial role we will play in supporting individuals and community groups to reinvigorate their local green spaces, reconnect to nature, and improve their mental health and wellbeing.

This is Groundwork’s bread and butter. We are as well known for our grassroots, local partnerships as our strategic activities and we will continue to support local communities with their own sustainability, help to improve their areas, and attract funding.

Another strand of our work, where we have enjoyed notable success of late, is developing naturebased solutions to environmental problems. We adopt a bold, ambitious approach with a focus on innovation, hoping that success will allow our ideas to be scaled up to help communities and businesses achieve net zero, and support individual businesses in their efforts to cut and offset carbon.

We have always believed in delivering radical solutions and I want to re-ignite this radicalism, encouraging teams across Groundwork to be brave and bold to deliver results in all our activities. Now, more than ever, we need to give it a go, and not be shy, or scared of failure. Shy bairns truly do get nowt!

Take Our Great Geordie Reef as a prime example of our efforts in this regard. Built last year, it floated along the Tyne to its semi-permanent docking station on Newcastle’s Quayside. The island was the world’s first high-tide floating ecosystem, providing ‘green’ training and jobs for people who helped to make it, with several of our young recruits working on the project. It was also a phenomenal learning tool and test bed for carbon capture, biodiversity and marine eco-systems. Having proved the concept, we now hope the idea will be scaled up and larger projects developed to tackle carbon capture and storage.

The project provided a great platform for green training and employment, another of our key priorities for the year ahead. Equipping people with the skills to move into green jobs has been my focus at Groundwork for over 21 years, in my former role as director of youth, employment & skills. Now as chief executive, I will still champion this cause.

The UK economy needs a workforce, if we cut migration into Britain, we will need millions of homegrown workers to improve productivity. We have a wealth of untapped talent in this country, people who may need encouragement and support to get back into the workforce and given new skills to play a valuable role.

Green jobs are not just for technical graduates, there is a role for everyone to play to make the world a better place. Groundwork is doing its bit to ease people back into meaningful work and employment.

We are developing employability programmes with companies including Balfour Beatty to provide skills and work-based opportunities for young people, to broaden horizons and create access to jobs.

We are keen to develop more partnerships like this with companies in different industry sectors to give more young people access to different work-based skills and experience, and create a broad menu of employment opportunities.

Another key goal for 2023 and one which reflects all the issues currently facing the UK, is the need to extend our ‘Green Doctor’ service.

Green doctors are energy-saving experts who give practical help and advice to households on staying warm, well and saving money on household bills. Demand for this service far outstrips supply, and faced with the current energy and cost of living crisis we would love to make it available to everyone in the North East, regardless of income.

We will be looking for ways we can team up with health service trusts, housing associations and other organisations to secure investment and support to extend the programme across the region.

To deliver all of our charitable objectives, we recognise that much of our work needs to be done in partnership. Whether we deliver projects directly, or influence others in the private sector, in education, housing or the public sector to deliver activity that advances our goals and ambitions, then our work is done.

Anyone interested in working with us and supporting our campaigns can contact us at GNEC. development@groundwork.org.uk


Article originally appeared in The Journal, 12th January, 2023