The Heart of Bucks ‘Inspiring Buckinghamshire’ series gives local people from a range of sectors a chance to share their knowledge and insights to help inspire others.
Here we are speaking with Hannah Asquith, CEO of Youth Concern.
Tell us about yourself and your connection to Buckinghamshire.
At school I was named the ‘person most likely to live and work abroad’ but after studying, working and travelling across the UK, Italy, southern Africa and New Zealand I have settled less than an hour’s drive from my home town in Hertfordshire!
A job in the fundraising team at Rennie Grove Hospice at Home first brought me to Buckinghamshire and I’ve loved the county ever since. The beech woods, the canal and rivers, chalk downland, pretty villages and market towns – there’s such scope to be somewhere beautiful in the great outdoors!
What personal achievements are you most proud of?
Winning the ‘Trailblazer’ category of Buckinghamshire’s Women In Charity Awards in February.
Often in the voluntary sector, we are so busy pushing forward that we don’t make time to reflect on how far we’ve come. (A sentiment shared by Charlie Macksey’s brilliant The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse.) There is always so much more to be done and so few hours in the day!
I was nominated by Youth Concern’s Chair of Trustees in recognition of the ‘huge impact, through enterprising, innovative and ground-breaking initiatives he felt I had made. It was affirming to read his nomination, and to win was such an accolade. It’s given me a great opportunity to raise awareness of the pivotal work Youth Concern is doing with vulnerable 13-25 year olds across Aylesbury Vale.
What are some of the challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
I became CEO of Youth Concern in March 2020 as a new virus in Wuhan hit the news. My plan had been to spend time observing ‘business as usual, watching our team of youth workers and counsellors engage with vulnerable 13-25 year olds from our Drop-in Centre on Whitehill Lane.
Instead, my plans were turned on their head; in my first 2 months, big changes had to be made to the way the charity delivered its services. We closed our physical doors to the 40-50 young people who’d been coming to our drop-in centre weekly, furloughed some of our small staff team, some of whom I’d not yet met, and on a skeleton staff, took our service online, launching a new website (www.youthconcern.org.uk), increasing our external comms and preparing to reopen our Drop-in doors as soon as we were allowed (July).
My colleagues and I overcame those challenges, as so many of us did, by pulling together, supporting one another, and being flexible as restrictions, domestic and professional situations changed.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
From my sixth form English teacher, Miss Kennedy: that I’d do better as a big fish in a small pond than as a small fish in a big pond! Big fish can make a bigger splash (continuing the metaphor!) in their chosen locality. If Bucks is my pond, I am ambitious to use my skills and experience to learn from and benefit my neighbours.
Buckinghamshire may appear to be an affluent county but that affluence masks real need. Three areas in Aylesbury are among the most deprived 20% of the UK. Employment prospects in Bucks are lower than the national average for those with qualifications below NVQ4. House prices are significantly higher than the national average; there’s a shortage of affordable homes and homelessness is a growing problem, especially in Aylesbury Vale. And mental health – well, we’ve all been affected by Covid but if it was the frontline NHS staff who saw us through the last year, it’ll be counsellors who help us for years to come.
What is your greatest hope for the future for Buckinghamshire?
That the playing field will be levelled out. This county has some of the greatest inequalities among its residents of any county in the UK.
- Life expectancy, for example, is nearly 8 years lower in Castlefield, High Wycombe than in Gerrards Cross.
- Nationally there’s been a 110% increase in the need for food banks during the pandemic – Aylesbury Vineyard Storehouse and Chesham Chiltern Foodbank, to name but two, have put meals on the table for thousands of families in the last year alone.
- Only 13% of our most vulnerable children pass maths and English GCSE. And youth unemployment has reached 13.6%, more than three times the figure for all ages. How can our young people break the generational cycles of poverty without qualifications and access to work?
My greatest hope is that every Bucks resident will receive a good education, be clothed, fed, homed, employed if they can work and supported if they can’t.