Phil Barron shares his final blog post as CEO of Young Westminster Foundation.
This year we mark Five Years Young. I certainly feel five years older, but it also feels five minutes ago since I started with Young Westminster Foundation, and now I am reflecting on my time with the Foundation before moving on myself.
Back in May 2017, it was just me and my laptop camping out at Great Western Studios wondering where to start with setting up the Foundation. Based here was a lovely introduction to the sector working alongside encouraging colleagues from the sector, Paddington Development Trust, DreamArts and the Floating Classroom.
Not sure where to start, our founding trustee Jackie Rosenberg suggested to undertake a needs analysis to establish a baseline of issues and needs for young people and we brought Hamza Taouzzale on board as an intern; Helen Mann joined soon after. Hamza recruited some of his peers from King Solomon Academy and we went out to the schools and youth clubs of Westminster to meet young people, youth workers, teachers and partners.
At this time there was a mixed reception from partners at the Foundation being established. Westminster’s youth sector felt battered and fragmented with recent youth club closures and a level of mistrust. A new model of working was desperately needed to keep youth services going.
This context was seen across London and was the driving force for John Lyon’s Charity in establishing the Young People’s Foundation model. Thanks to Erik Mesel at JLC who created the model and was successful in persuading Westminster City Council to come on board and co-invest to start a Foundation in Westminster.
Once partners started seeing the value in the Foundation we were able to launch a membership offer, and it’s been amazing to see this membership grow to 140 member organisations. Our member organisations provide a rich and diverse offering of services for young people, underpinned by a dedicated workforce of youth workers across Westminster’s youth hubs and wider youth organisations.
Not coming from a youth work background myself, I’ve enjoyed meeting some amazing youth workers over the last few years and developing my own insights into the value of youth work. Youth workers provide a solid lifeline for young people which includes education, fun, mentoring and support.
Our first group of peer researchers undertook a fantastic piece of work leading to YWF’s first report A City Within a City. This report shone a light on the lives of young people in Westminster including a real love for the borough but also highlighted massive disparities.
For me it has been important that Foundation’s work has been underpinned by the needs of young people. We built on this report with a second needs analysis which played out through the pandemic in 2020 culminating in our second research report Our City Our Future.
Our peer researchers have been amazing and helped to ensure a focus on important issues for the Foundation to respond to. We have seen children’s mental health exacerbated by the pandemic which continues to be a concern. Bringing the local MIND to co-locate mental health workers in youth clubs is a great project and more of these type of innovative interventions are needed much more.
We are still in touch with this first group of peer researchers and recently Jamil Uddin and Rashma Rahman have joined the YWF Board of Trustees to take on the leadership of the Foundation at a time when their peer Hamza has become the Lord Mayor of Westminster and adopted YWF as his charity of the year. What a year!
I’ve really enjoyed working with YWF’s trustees who come from all different backgrounds and I’ve been well supported personally by our two chairs Shane Ryan and Neil Daly. As Brian Bickell takes on the Chair role to support Helen as CEO, I have total faith that they will make a fantastic leadership team to continue taking the work of the Foundation forward.
Supported by a brilliant team – Matira, Sam, Nora, Marium, Hazel, Laurie, Karolina – I’m going to miss you all terribly and will be back to visit when I need a laugh!
Setting up a small charity located in the West End has included unique moments, from setting up a 4-week pop-up exhibition space on Carnaby Street, to parliamentary receptions, to stunt men knocking on the office of our Chinatown office to jump out of the windows.
YWF is a small team, but goodness me, is dynamic, creative and productive. From a starting point of funding for the youth sector in Westminster drying up, I’m proud that the team has been able to raise funds, set up a grants management system and direct funds out to the best projects. This hard work as resulted in £2.1 million of grants impacting on the lives of young people in Westminster.
Fundraising is hard work but we’ve had fun getting to know local funders, businesses and commissioners at Westminster City Council who have all committed to the model of the Foundation. As well as grant giving our supporters have committed to our strategic programmes.
Our Mastering My Future programme has grown from a pilot project four years ago and has now engaged over 600 young people with employability support. More recently the Helping Hands project has started in the North West of the borough tackling serious youth violence through a long-term community led approach. Enabled by funding from London’s Violence Reduction Unit and a collaboration between Westminster City Council, YWF and local community partners.
As I leave YWF, I urge partners to continue to collaborate on long term solutions to create more equitable futures for young people in Westminster through honest, open discussions matched by the pooling of resources and expertise. I look forward to seeing YWF continue to develop as part of the national network of Young People’s Foundations.