Churchill Fellow’s youth intervention charity welcomes royalty this week
When Darren Way (CF 2000) sent in his application to become a Churchill Fellow in 1999 he could never have imagined it would lead to setting up his own charity and meeting Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales.
But that is exactly what happened.
Having grown up on one of the UK’s most socially deprived council estates Darren saw at first-hand how young people can become drawn into and exploited through violence, crime, gangs, drugs, and other dangers due to their poverty, limited chances, and sense of hopelessness.
This motivated Darren, who wanted to break the cycle of harm and prevent young generations from being marginalised, to apply for a Churchill Fellowship in 1999. His project focused on systems change and equipping young people to overcome these social and economic challenges.
As part of his Fellowship Darren visited the USA and learned about gang intervention and prevention and looked at social enterprise models that were led with and by young people. The Fellowship gave him the opportunity to learn about best practices that he could bring back to the UK and interweave with his own ideas for effective use with young people.
This led to Darren setting up a charity in 2001, Streets of Growth, which specialises in intervention approaches that re-engage young people aged between 15 and 25 years, who are disconnected and caught up in harmful lifestyles in their neighbourhoods.
Darren first started by volunteering himself at night on the frontline, talking to other concerned neighbours and relentlessly trying to re-engage young people who had fallen through the cracks of mainstream services and caught up in anti-social behaviour and career criminality. He teamed up with co-founder Diane Peters and embarked on innovating a ‘fit for purpose’ evidence-based model of approach for transforming youth and community development.
They turned this model into Streets of Growth, a not-for-profit charity. Its purpose is to find, accompany and equip young adults aged 15-25 years, who for whatever reason have become stuck, are in harm’s way and require a comprehensive approach to transforming their lives.
In December 2022, The Prince and Princess of Wales visited a youth intervention organisation called Roca, based in Boston, USA to learn of their work with young people and families using cognitive behavioural theory and street-based practices. Roca was the central organisation that Darren visited during his Fellowship in 2000 and in partnership with Roca CEO Molly Baldwin he is currently road-testing Roca’s Rewire CBT neuroscience model at Streets of Growth.
Through the charity’s patrons, Lady Peel and ex-Deputy Lieutenant John Barber, Darren was able to arrange for The Princess of Wales to visit Streets of Growth, so she could see the international partnership work with Roca that emerged from his Churchill Fellowship.
On 19 September 2023, The Princess of Wales came to see the new space for Streets of Growth, which has been provided by Unite Students, at their flagship accommodation building in east London. This new space is enabling the charity to reach even more young people and means the charity can now set about trying to secure longer term funding that aligns with their clients’ need for intensive longer-term support.
The Princess spoke to Darren, his team and several young people who are at serious risk of exploitation, violence, crime, and isolation. She was particularly interested in how their mental health was affected by their circumstances.
Darren said of the Princess: “It gave a real boost to the staff and our young clients to see that the Princess was genuinely affected by what she heard, and you could see she was very interested. She really understood that you have to know people’s backstory. She appreciated the link between her work in early years development and how adverse effects can be felt in the lives of teenagers and young adults later.”
The Princess spoke to some mothers and daughters who had been coached and supported by the charity. She was shown some of the creative workshops and enterprises that families engaged with and set up, which had helped to increase their confidence and enhance family relationships.
The frontline team at Streets of Growth have transformed the lives of over 5,400 young lives, who are some of the most under served and at-risk young adults in east London. Their approach has a seven out of ten-success rate, and they are advancing the way that communities address gangs, gun and knife harm and how young communities are at the centre of regeneration opportunities in their neighbourhoods and beyond.
Streets of Growth has also developed long term strategic partners with organisations such as the Metropolitan Police Service, which has evolved into training new police recruits in the charity’s model of approach and incorporating elements of Darren’s Fellowship learnings as part of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘familiarisation’ training to new officers.
Darren appreciated that a Churchill Fellowship gave him the opportunity to visit another country and learn more about the project that is so close to his heart. He believes his Fellowship helped him to improve his understanding of himself and what he wanted to get out of his life.
Darren says: “On a professional level, my Fellowship taught me that the challenges I was facing were not all personal to me but were a natural part of any change process one would experience. One surprise was that it made me realise that I needed to better value what I was already doing in the UK. I met and researched pioneering practitioners who shared tools and insights that propelled my practice 5-10 years and still gives my charity the leading edge today. I’ve gone from having a neighbourhood community to a global community which I still visit to share insights today.
“My hopes and focus now lie in future proofing Streets of Growth. I have since moved from long standing founder into a more ambassadorial role and brand/flag bearer. My aim is to scale my advanced practitioner development unit nurturing the next generation of practitioners in this field and taking our grass roots work and making it more visible on a global stage, sharing lessons learned from my Fellowship and charity experience to inspire and encourage others.”