New Creative Youth Network CEO Mark Coates reports on his first two months

Mark is the new Chief Executive at Creative Youth Network, a youth charity with a mission to help young people achieve their potential

I’m two months into my new role as Creative Youth Network’s new CEO and blimey, it’s been a baptism of fire!

I still feel humbled to be leading such an amazing organisation. CYN does such important work across the West of England, working with thousands of our region’s young people each year and delivering genuine impact and opportunities for those who need it most.

Our staff team is incredible and every time I talk with our youth workers, I’m blown away by their passion, commitment and ability to inspire the next generation.

It’s tough times for the youth sector. Since 2010 public funding for youth services has fallen from £1.5bn to £380k – that’s a staggering £1.1bn or 74% real terms reduction. As a sector we’re therefore just a quarter of what we were 12 years ago.

And I was less than a week into my new role before being presented with our latest challenge, a £200k funding cut as part of the well-publicised budget savings that Bristol City Council have been forced to make for 2022/23.

So what to do?

Well first and foremost I’m a pragmatist. We know these cuts are the result of systemic budget issues and not because the council want to be making them, or because they don’t see the value of youth services (they absolutely do, and the feedback on service quality has been overwhelmingly positive). So we’ve been busy working constructively with the council and with the other 9 organisations that we’re proud to partner and share this funding with, to agree the “least worst” way of making an unpalatable change.

But it’s difficult, coming at a time when demand for youth services is increasing and our waiting lists are as long as ever. And for me it emphasises three key themes that I always wanted to bring to my new role:

The need to be businesslike and sustainable. We know that local authority finances are in a difficult place, and that that’s unlikely to change for some time. And I don’t want to get into a zero-sum game where charities end up scrapping over a shrinking share of limited grants. At Creative Youth Network we’re fortunate to generate nearly a quarter of our income from trading activities, but in the face of ongoing public funding pressures, we’ll be looking to step this up over the years ahead.

The value and importance of partnership. We work with some amazing partner organisations, some of whom do similar things to us and others who have capabilities and reach that we simply don’t. That’s as it should be – we’d want to work collaboratively anyway, but especially when money is tight it’s important that we all pull together, share resources, and make sure that we act as more than the sum of our parts.

The need to be open to new ways of working, to make the most of what we do have and can control. Too much to say on this to fit into a short blog – but watch this space!

Building on these themes, our big project for 2022/23 will be to refurbish Bristol’s old Magistrates Courts, a magnificent but derelict city centre building which we intend to re-open as a Creative Enterprise Hub – a space where business and emerging talent can come together, offering training and entry level employment opportunities for talented young people who don’t normally get the chance at those kinds of jobs. This will be the ultimate win/win – good for business, good for talented young people from under-represented backgrounds, and good for creating a long term revenue stream for youth services, making us less reliant on public funding in future.

I’m really pleased that we’re members of the West of England Initiative and I think there’s so much value in our business and wider community coming together, collaborating, and sharing ideas for how together we can be more than the sum of our parts. I’d be delighted to connect with anybody out there who’d welcome a conversation – do please get in touch

Web: Creative Youth Network

Twitter: @markcoates99, @Creative_Youth


More info on the Courts project here: How can a building make you smile? | Home | Creative Youth Network

More info on how your business can support Creative Youth Network here: How your business can help transform the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable young people | Creative Youth Network

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