Swiss Cottage charity embarks on radical change

Inspired by a trip to Harlem, a Swiss Cottage charity is embarking on its most radical change since it was set up forty years ago in a squat by ex-cabinet minister Peter Mandelson.

The Winchester Project - which provides play activities, after school and sports clubs to 2,000 youngsters a year - is launching a scheme which will give “cradle to career” support to some of Camden’s most disadvantaged youngsters.

The Promise Academy, which is being piloted in the New Year, takes a group of children and guides them through The Winch’s different schemes, tracking their progress at every step.

Chief executive Paul Perkins said: “Despite the enormous amount of support that is given to children and young people and families, it doesn’t actually change kids a lot of the time.

“We see children at seven and eight, and we already know that at 15 they will get into trouble, and we think, is there nothing more we could have done?

“It is about thinking about who are the young people we see, how do we react when they don’t turn up to sessions, or when something major is going on in their lives. This whole model looks at that long term approach.”

The overhaul was prompted by a soul searching trip the charity took to Harlem, one of New York’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

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There many organisations have been grappling with how to radically alter the life chances of children born into the city’s ghettos.

Among them was a project called Baby Calling, which gives mothers advice on nutrition and the importance of talking to your baby, while it is still in the womb.

Mr Perkins hopes to mimic this success in Swiss Cottage, where many of Camden’s richest families live alongside the poorest.

By launching baby classes for new mothers and charging on a sliding scale according to income, he hopes to change the life of the unborn child while also creating “the context for social bridging” between families who do not normally mix.

Alongside this, The Winch is about to embark on a major refurbishment of its Winchester Road centre which will include the creation of new facilities, including a caf� run by its members and design zones.

The Winch hopes to make these projects pay by investing in youngsters to start their own business.

If it is successful, the charity gets a slice of the profits, helping it move away from total dependence on grants.

But these changes come at a price.

While youth and homework clubs will continue, in the long term this shift will mean fewer people will be able to access The Winch.

This is a notable change for a charity founded in 1974 on the premise that it provided an open door to all children.

But Mr Perkins insists the change is necessary if the charity is to prove its services really can change lives and so justify funding.

“This change is about taking responsibility,” he said. “The key is to join the dots.”