Farewell to Paul Perkins as he leaves role as Winch chief executive

'We can't just talk about the need for youth services after a murder or the riots'

Thursday, 28th September 2017 — By Richard Osley


Paul Perkins has been chief exec at the Winch for nine years

WHEN you ask Paul Perkins what proud achievements he will look back on as the director of a centre which has changed young people’s lives for the better, he seems just as keen to talk about issues which remain unsolved.

But while he is slow to blow his own trumpet, there will be plenty of people saluting the 36-year-old when he says a sad farewell to Winchester Project – The Winch – in Swiss Cottage tomorrow night. For nine years, Mr Perkins, has been its chief executive and alongside his team has faced some of the borough’s most challenging youth work.

“The failures drive me to want it to be better and better,” he told the New Journal ahead of a leaving part which will bring streams of admirers to Winchester Road. “Maybe it’s an ego thing – but you want every young person to have an opportunity, to be listened to. We came up with ambition of helping from ‘cradle to career’, which was powerful, but in terms of how it stops young people we always knew were going to fall through the gaps ending up in those positions, there’s still a sense of not having quite achieved that.”

The centre might not actually still be there at all had Mr Perkins not brought some stability to role, after seven directors had come and gone in as many years before he was appointed. “We ended my first year with eight grand in the bank account and for me it always felt like we were Coventry City [Mr Perkins supports the sky blues], a sleeping giant. I’m proud the organisation did not go under because in that first 12 months we just did everything, we were asking for favours and everyone in the organisation voluntarily took a 20 percent reduction in salary for six months so nobody would have to be laid off. It was tough but it was special.”

It is now highly regarded for the advice it gives young people, its community-minded family dinner sessions and as a friendly after school club. Young entrepreneurs have meanwhile benefited from help getting their ideas off the ground.
But – no – Mr Perkins, who is departing for a new job with Save The Children, wants to talk about the challenges of less money in the system for youth work and the deja vu of young men taking up arms and finding themselves wrapped up in crime, partly because some have passed through his doors.

“I guess there are organisations that are happy just being an after school club but I think the ambition here is whemn you speak to the staff is that they want to make a difference to young people’s lives. They want to do big work,” said Mr Perkins, a father-of-three and former Chalcots tower resident. “Once we got our house in order, I think we did make a difference. We built something for a long-term but it’s still a shock when there is a murder case. It hits you hard.”

How to stem youth violence in London – at different times, in different places – feels like a million dollar question.

“The pool table after school club works for some people but the young people who typically are going to end up kind of carrying out some of those acts are not young people who naturally come along to a youth club,” Mr Perkins added. “But we can’t just talk about the need for youth services after a murder or the riots.”

The Winch is set to announced his replacement with the new director facing the ongoing dilemma of what to do about its building. There may be a move to new premises in the controversial 100 Avenue Road development but the project remains mired in opposition to a proposed sky-scraper on site.

“We can keep patching up the building but it’s never going to be that place young people deserve,” said Mr Perkins. “We had plans in 2011 but it would have cost £4.2 million and £2 million just to install a lift, and I did not feel I could ask donors to help with a building of this size. There are perhaps some other options but my hope is that The Winch can go on making a difference. It is a super special place which has built trust and relationships in the community.”

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