Meet the neighbours: Newcastle United Foundation

Newcastle United Foundation has built a new multi-million-pound community hub. Called NUCASTLE, it is just across the road from Helix's north west corner. Read on to discover how the Foundation looks to transform lives through coaching, education, mentoring and providing opportunities to those who need them most.

We spoke with Sarah Medcalf, Deputy Head of the Foundation about the journey so far, engagement with local communities and businesses, their vision to transform lives and our shared ambitions for local people.

Tell us a little bit about the story so far and why the area of Westgate was chosen for the new community hub?

Newcastle United Foundation started out as a charity, independent of the football club, in 2007 with the aim of tackling a lot of the social issues that were, and continue to be, prevalent in the region. We use the power of the Newcastle United brand and the passion our region has for football to engage with children and adults in the community, provide them with opportunities and to help them reach their potential, whatever that may be for them individually. Around 160 members of our staff support 64,000 people every year across Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland and North Tyneside through our employability and health and wellbeing programmes.

In terms of our new community hub, I’ve got to give credit to Kate Bradley, who was the previous Head of Foundation, whose idea it was to create a new home for the Foundation and a community hub for all. We knew we could deliver more as a charity, but we were quite restricted in terms of hiring venues, to expand some of the work we wanted to do.

Murray House was the original community centre which NUCASTLE is built on. Their team of volunteers approached us to see if we would like to take over the facility, in keeping with its ethos as a community venue. We knew that we could create more impact if we had this space, so we agreed to take on the asset.

Murray House was set up in the 1930s as a place to retrain men and boys who had lost their jobs in the ship building industry. It moved into its home on Diana Street in the late 60s with the same ethos of supporting job opportunities and it grew from there as a youth centre. We really felt that the place aligned with where we were on our journey as a Foundation at that point.

This brand-new community hub will attract 100,000 visitors every year, what makes NUCASTLE special?

NUCASTLE has been a real journey for a number of our supporters, stakeholders, participants and staff in getting to this point – it’s been a huge team effort. Five years ago, when we knew we had to raise £8m for this project, it was about selling a vision for what this centre and community hub would be. It’s about offering people opportunities, which is especially important now with the pandemic having caused unemployment to rise significantly in our region. Youth unemployment isn’t going away, and we know that young people are crying out for ways to reconnect with their peers as well as their community, and NUCASTLE will be able to provide a safe and secure environment to do that.

Anyone who is looking for an opportunity will be able to find it at this centre whether they’re looking for a job or want to improve on their personal development skills, and I think that’s what makes us special. Our hugely dedicated staff are a young team who can relate to what a lot of young people are going through at the moment and they can offer them guidance and act as role models.

Can you tell us more about the state-of-the art facilities?

The three storeys bring together our two main pillars of health, wellbeing and physical activity and employment.

On the ground floor we have a multi-use sports hall, which is the size of four badminton courts, as well as a cycle studio with 20 spinning bikes, and an activity studio for things like yoga, Pilates and body pump.

We wanted to make the reception area welcoming and inclusive to the local community, so there is a coffee facility for locals to meet and grab a drink if they want to. Our goal for the facility was for it to be a part of the community and a reason why we did a thorough consultation was to ensure that we created something that included them.

The middle floor of the building is sponsored by the North of Tyne Combined Authority and is dedicated to learning and skills development. This floor is about supporting young people into the job market and making the transition from education to employment much smoother. We have a particular focus on sectors where there are skill shortages such as, digital, STEM, construction and hospitality.

We have four classrooms, including an e-sports and a STEM classroom. The former is a new initiative for us and is in partnership with Newcastle College and the Premier League. This will give 56 learners the opportunity to gain a BTEC qualification in E-Sports which involves taking part in gaming activities but is much more about developing their skills ready for the digital sector. It’s a really exciting opportunity and is something that we’ve never done before.
Funded by the Reece Foundation, the STEM classroom is there to encourage school children and young adults to get more excited about what STEM can offer them. Within that, we have 20 VR headsets for learners to use, creating a different learning environment for over 15,000 young people who participate in our school programmes.

On the top floor we have a 4G, state-of-the-art rooftop pitch, which we’re all very excited about. It’s an open top football pitch aimed at providing football opportunities for everyone. It doesn’t matter your age, background or ability, you have the opportunity to use this rooftop pitch. It has the same quality surface that you’ll find at Newcastle Academy and has sensational views of St. James’ Park. It will be incorporated into a lot of our programmes at the centre and is a true stand-out facility.

NUCASTLE's rooftop pitch
NUCASTLE's rooftop pitch

It’s not just about the building, it’s about transforming lives. Can you tell us more about the programmes and initiatives that will support people to reach their potential?

We have a strong track record of supporting organisations to build meaningful relationships with their communities and to demonstrate social impact and we also have excellent relationships with local schools in the North East. The new centre allows us to upscale some of the really successful programmes that we’re already delivering in the community as well as launch new ones.

For example, the Kicks programme is delivered on a Thursday or Friday evening in areas where there’s a lot of anti-social behaviour. It provides free-to-access structured activity for young people aged 8-18. The centre will also house our disability football programme which will see 12 different after school sessions run throughout the week for young people and young adults.

Our flagship NU Futures programme will be delivered at NUCASTLE and is a partnership between private and public sector partners with the ultimate aim of getting more people engaged in the sectors where we have skill shortages. We plan to generate apprenticeships, traineeships and work placement opportunities as well as provide unique learning experiences in the centre. This programme is all about narrowing inequality and promoting social mobility as well as supporting businesses to recruit a talented and motivated workforce.

We’re also keen to deliver walking football sessions for those aged over 50 who haven’t engaged in physical activity for a while. This is a slightly different audience for us, but there’s been huge discussion about social isolation during the pandemic and this is a great activity to connect isolated older people who have a passion for football.

Overall, we’re looking at a full spectrum of health and wellbeing and employment programmes that will benefit the community as well as our employer partners.

The Foundation supports a wide range of activity to help people reach their potential
The Foundation supports a wide range of activity to help people reach their potential

NUCASTLE, is powered by Newcastle Building Society, why is the support of the business community so important?
In order to give our young people the right pathways to move forward, we can provide the building blocks and the confidence, but what they ultimately need are pathways.

We work with around 240 businesses in total to support the NU Futures programme, which allows us to provide opportunities in a wide range of sectors. For example, a business could do a talk for our young people or they may be able to provide a work experience opportunity.

Businesses have a really important role to play within NU Futures and what they can offer our young people. Things like site visits and sharing the experiences of their own apprentices are great ways to show young people the possibilities that are open to them. I think young people respond to other young people who have been on a similar journey to them and that’s something we’re keen to tap into. Our employability work wouldn’t work without the expertise and support of our business community.

We’ve been working in partnership with a number of corporates, including Sage and LNER to create a ‘Club NUFC’ film. Essentially, it’ll be a five-minute short film showcasing different sectors and it’ll give young people a flavour of some of the opportunities within businesses in the region. We know that a young person leaving school might not necessarily have an awareness of or the confidence to apply for roles at large global brands and we really want to help break down some of those barriers.

You have taken the community and businesses on this journey. How will their input shape the offer and contribute to the success of this building? When we went out to look for support for the centre, we had supporters and funders that had known us for quite a while and really believed in what we did and understood the impact we have in the North East and they wanted to help us with the capital project.

I think the capital project has opened doors to a lot of people that didn’t know what we did. In 2018 we developed an impact report which talked about the social value the Foundation generates and it highlighted that for every pound we spend, there is a £7 social return on investment. This gave new funders and supporters the confidence that if they gave us funds, we could have a real impact in communities.

What this has led to is much longer strategic partnerships, so yes, the building has opened in March 2022, but many of our key strategic partners are now on a journey with us for the next three to five years. They’ve given us long-term commitment and long-term support because we know change doesn’t happen overnight. All our partners and supporters are fully committed to our mission to create a united community full of pride, passion and potential. That’s what we work towards and our partners like Newcastle Building Society, Newcastle Helix, the North of Tyne Combined Authority, Reece Foundation, all of these brilliant institutions in the North East, are on this journey with us and we’re looking forward to showing them what we can do.

Newcastle Helix is a once in a lifetime opportunity to redevelop this area of the city and NUCASTLE will play a vital role in its continued transformation. How will it benefit the local economy?

Our social return on investment is key. It’s great to be having conversations with Newcastle Helix who are able to connect us with businesses that are moving to the site.

NUCASTLE is a great way to connect residents in the Arthur’s Hill area, that probably wonder what Newcastle Helix is and how they can get involved in it and with the business on the site. Our partnership will showcase the opportunities available at both locations. I think NUCASTLE and Newcastle Helix combined, showcase how regional investment is helping to regenerate an area. I’ve taken a number of partners to the area, and they all highlight the real transformation that they see and that can only be beneficial to the local economy on all different levels within the city centre and in the West End of the city. The Westgate ward is quite a socially deprived ward, there’s a lot of health inequality and youth unemployment and the fact that the community can see Newcastle, as a city, is investing in their area, is a real positive for them.

Finally, how can businesses and people get involved?
We’re looking for businesses who want to support the programmes, whether they want to come in and help with workshops, mock interviews or take part in our job fairs.

We also want to ask businesses how we can help them? We’ve got bright, young, enthusiastic school leavers in the 18-24 age group that can help fill some of those skill gaps that organisations have. We’re always keen to grow our own talent in the North East and to give young people a helping hand in what is quite a tough climate at the moment.

There’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm in schools for opportunities within businesses, it’s just about opening doors for young people in our community.

This investment will benefit the local community for years to come and make a real difference to the lives of disadvantaged children, young people, and families in the North East.

For more information about the Newcastle United Foundation visit their website.

BBC Match of the Day at NUCASTLE's opening

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