Swiss Cottage youngsters learn lessons from New York

YOUNG people from a community project in Swiss Cottage crossed the Atlantic to see how similar initiatives in New York have transformed the lives of some of the city’s poorest children.

Fourteen teenagers from The Winch, a Swiss Cottage charity, flew to New York last Thursday to see how similar community projects in the Big Apple have turned people’s lives around.

They visited Harlem Children’s Zone – which offers a network of services for children in the most deprived communities, from birth through to college or university.

It aims to provide a critical mass of adults who understand what it takes to ensure a child’s success. President Obama described it as “one of the most successful anti-poverty programmes in history”.

The trip was funded through the American School in London (ASL) and a private donor. It included visits to the 52nd Street Project, the Children’s Storefront, the Girls Club, the Urban Justice Centre and the Superhero Supply Store.

Established in 1973 at the former Winchester Arms pub on Winchester Road, The Winch began as a youth and community centre. It grew from a grassroots organisation, which was committed to working with the most disenfranchised and marginalised children and young people in Camden.

Today it helps thousands of children and young people each year, including those who have been let down by society or who feel ostracised, through its play, sport, youth, community and enterprise projects.

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Funding has been secured to develop architectural plans and kickstart social enterprise, and the Harlem Learning Journey is one model of how the Winch can thrive despite the current economic climate.

Reece Okezie, a youth worker at The Winch, is one of the young people who took part. Reece set up football team Ace United with some friends and the support of parents and local youth workers. It has grown from a football team into a community project.

While in New York, he visited a number of youth projects run by the Harlem Children’s Zone. He also spoke to youth workers there to understand how they had taken an idea from conception to the thriving projects they are today.

On returning to Swiss Cottage he said: “The trip really opened my eyes to the possibilities of building upon Ace United and it also showed me that it really is possible to achieve the kind of goals and ambitions I have for it.

“The Harlem Children’s Zone has shown me that anything is possible, and with a bit of hard work and a lot of passion, Ace United will prosper and thrive.”

The aspiration is to make Learning Journeys a social enterprise which not only young people and youth workers, but also philanthropists and public sector workers can learn from.

Paul Perkins, Director of the Winch said: “Learning from a project as successful as the Harlem Children’s Zone has been invaluable and there’s lots to think about.

“But this is a trip which isn’t only about that. It’s about letting young people lead the way and offering the experiences which enable them to really transform our work and their futures.

“The young people and youth workers who went found it an amazing experience, a real challenge and a launch pad for our future.”