My week: George Hepburn takes a low profile

Monday: Instead of an early start in the office, I get an extra half hour in the gym before turning up at a community project in the west end of Newcastle.

I am on placement here for two days a week as part of a sabbatical from the Community Foundation. I increasingly doubt whether the experience and skills of a grant-maker have any relevance on the streets of Benwell, which is still one of the high-ranking wards for multiple deprivation. But it's a marvellous opportunity for me, and a relief not to be carrying around all the baggage of a high-profile public role.

Tuesday I interview pensioners to evaluate services provided by the project. They live on an estate built in the 1920s as 'homes fit for heroes'.

Many have lived in the same house for more than 30 years and are intensely proud of their community. I worry that the grand plans to regenerate the area overlook the need for simple improvements.

Wednesday I hear the news on Unicef's latest report on child poverty.

I'm shocked that the UK is bottom of the league after all this Government has done to tackle child poverty. Why aren't we willing to learn more from those small European countries that have higher public investment and different attitudes to family life? I resolve to visit Sweden.

My treat of the week is to visit the Ashington Group paintings, which have been rehoused in a brand new museum on a former colliery site. They were miners who were taught to paint by a Workers Educational Association tutor in the 1930s. Their paintings tell of tough lives underground but are also full of the domestic trivia of family life - something Unicef might have commended.

Thursday In order to stay away from the office, I meet a Community Foundation colleague on Newcastle's cappuccino strip. We discuss her community philanthropy presentation to a future scenarios seminar - part of my sabbatical project.

The figures show that far fewer charitable trusts have been set up in the past 15 years. These days donors are looking for more involved and informal ways of managing their philanthropy that might be a selling point for community foundations.

Friday Reading day for next week's seminar. Gallop through the remaining chapters of Collapse, Jared Diamond's extraordinary study of communities that commit 'ecoside'. Diamond asks what could have possessed Easter Islanders to destroy their environment or why Norwegian settlers in Greenland weren't prepared to learn from the Inuit. Sounds familiar.

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

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