Mind the gap

John Edwards | 06 Nov 2015 | Comments

Why young people need to be part of the Northern Powerhouse debate.

The thinktank, IPPR (Institute of Public Policy Research) North, recently highlighted that less than half of the most deprived children in the North achieve a good level of development before their fifth birthday (see the BBC article here). The North’s relatively poor attainment in early years stands in stark contrast to attainment nationally, with children in the North performing even lower than the poorest children in London.

To me this shows that we can’t have prosperity in the North until we give our children and young people a better start in life. It shows that we need to invest not only in heavy infrastructure like rail, but in people and education. To make the Northern Powerhouse a reality, we need to make some real improvements to the development of our knowledge and skills, starting with our very youngest.

Central to this effort will be providing better schools in the North – places that inspire our future generations and help them reach their fullest potential. This is already starting to happen with initiatives like the Yorkshire Priority Schools Building Programme. But how do we make sure we make the most of these investments in our schools?

One thing we need to look at is how new and improved educational buildings can help foster and support integration between education and the community. By providing places that unite young people with their communities, we can improve academic performance and personal development, and enable lifelong education and local partnerships.

Horizon Community College in Barnsley is a good example of this. Atkins’ design for the college incorporates an array of sports facilities for school and community use; a 420 seat theatre attracting professional theatre companies from around the world; and a dance and recording studios fit for professional artists. This has created a strong, mutually beneficial link between the young people at Horizon and the Barnsley community.

In order to design for community use, we also need to make sure we are listening and responding to the specific needs of people in Northern communities. To do this, it is essential that we involve as many potential user groups as possible in designing their future schools, identifying issues and responding in the most appropriate way.

A great example of this is Harraby Community Campus, a unique building that incorporates a three form primary school, two early year’s nurseries, a community centre, refurbished arts theatre, hot food cafe, children’s centre and a soft play run by Barnardos. We engaged with the community users of this campus from the very beginning, viewing it as a school designed and created collectively – by the council, school, community and the teachers and children (you can read my colleague Scott’s article on ‘designing in partnership’ with Harraby here).

In the long run, educational buildings have the potential to act as a catalyst for regeneration of the North, serving as open and accessible buildings that provide facilities not only for the community, but for businesses and other organisations.