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Former Swiss Cottage youth centre boss defends youngsters’ rights after move to charity role

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 October 2017

Paul Perkins has started a new role at Save the Children after nine years at the Winchester Project centre, known as the Winch, in Swiss Cottage. Picture: JON KING

Paul Perkins has started a new role at Save the Children after nine years at the Winchester Project centre, known as the Winch, in Swiss Cottage. Picture: JON KING

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The former boss of a Swiss Cottage youth centre has called for more public spaces for young people to gather.

The launch of the Promise Academy at The Winch. Pictured chief executive Paul Perkins with centre user Ashleigh Begum (11).The launch of the Promise Academy at The Winch. Pictured chief executive Paul Perkins with centre user Ashleigh Begum (11).

Paul Perkins gave up the helm of The Winchester Project, known as The Winch, last week after nine years at the youth centre, in Winchester Road.

A day before taking up a new role at charity Save the Children, Mr Perkins said: “I’m sad to leave. I love the work and team here. But it’s time for someone else to take the organisation forward.”

Mr Perkins spoke of opposition to the The Winch’s ambition to find a new home at the 100 Avenue Road development when reflecting on the highs and lows of leading the centre, set up in the 1970s after youngsters in search of a home for their club occupied the Old Winchester Arms pub.

He said: “We came in for some criticism. It was a bit symbolic of how some think about children. We risk feeding a fear of young people because 
we are designing them out of public places.”

Iain Duncan Smith speaks to Paul Perkins. Picture: NIGEL SUTTONIain Duncan Smith speaks to Paul Perkins. Picture: NIGEL SUTTON

The 36 year-old’s faith in young people has remained firm since he first got into youth work on a gap year volunteering on a Coventry estate “most people avoided”.

In spite of witnessing a moped-enabled mugging after his leaving party at The Winch last week which he believes was carried out by a youngster, Mr Perkins called on older generations to volunteer in their communities rather than complain of “the youth of today”.

He said: “On the whole people really care about young people. It goes back to the mantra it takes a village to raise a child. The more you engage with them, the more you realise they aren’t that scary.”

The Geneva-born father of three who lived in the Chalcots estate for 10 years paid tribute to The Winch’s youngsters, one of whom raised funds and organised a convoy delivering aid to refugees in the Calais ‘Jungle’.

A further highlight of his career was when The Winch stepped in to rescue Belsize Library after its core funding was cut by Camden Council.

Mr Perkins said he leaves The Winch stronger than when he arrived at the organisation which was losing money and direction in 2009.

But challenges remain with 600 youth centres closed nationally, charities struggling to fill funding gaps left by cuts and youth clubs expected to “police” youngsters.

“It’s not the youth services’ role to act as police. You can’t cut and expect the same results. You have to invest in communities to keep them healthy,” he said.

The new head of the Winch has yet to be announced.

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