Back Page: My week George Hepburn skips work for the coast

Monday Bank holidays are just like buses. They come along all together, just when you don't want them.

George Hepburn
George Hepburn

After four months on sabbatical, I'm keen to get back into the swing of things at the community foundation. It has managed really well while I've been away and came through a national quality accreditation with flying colours. There is an opportunity for me to take a lighter touch and play a more strategic role. My colleagues encourage me to do so but point out that I am my own worst enemy.

Tuesday: I review the first year of the North East Social Capital Forum, which the foundation manages for development agency One North East. I am a great fan of the work on civil society by US academic Robert Putnam and am intrigued by the way some communities buzz with social capital. Did you know, by the way, that joining voluntary organisations increases life expectancy? The forum has generated a lot of debate and published a well-received guide for community activists. The challenge now is to influence practice and policy in such areas as community safety, wellbeing and economic development.

Wednesday: One resolution made during my sabbatical is to take a day off a month. I go on an exhilarating walk up the Northumberland coast with Tom Adams from Children North East, and we put the world to rights and worry about future funding for children's services once the Children's Fund ends next year. A harsh spending review is imminent and, as Tom puts it, "the money just ain't there". The Arts Council is already running a brilliant high-profile campaign against the cuts, and the voluntary sector will also need to get its act together. A new Navca leaflet, Sustaining Grants, which argues that grant aid is an essential part of the local funding mix, is a step in the right direction.

Thursday: A red-letter day as the foundation receives nearly £1m from the sale of a disused youth centre in Newcastle to set up the David Dockray Fund. Mr Dockray funded the original building back in 1945, and knowledge of his generosity will live on through grants to youth groups in the area.

Friday: It's never a bad idea to end the week with tea and crumpets in Grigor McClelland's garden. Grigor was the founder chair of the foundation nearly 20 years ago, when I was just a whippersnapper. His advice is as wise and perceptive as ever and, as befits the founder director of Manchester Business School, he takes me through the flaws in my sabbatical project on future scenarios for community foundations with a wonderfully light touch.

- George Hepburn is chief executive of the Community Foundation serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.

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