If you let me, I'll be your biggest cheerleader

Not far from the shadow of Canary Wharf is the Pepys Road housing estate. Here young people grow up in complex lives of poverty, domestic abuse and a lack of access to opportunities. Drugs and violence are commonplace. The Haberdashers' Company's Major Grant awardee XLP is determined to change that narrative. 

XLP youth session


A small group of young people turned up for the XLP youth group on a bright autumn evening, the youth workers ready to greet them. There were hugs and high fives as they warmly welcomed these young people to the session. The hardened faces of these young people visibly softened as they gave broad smiles in response. This was clearly a place of safety and trust. 

I asked one of the youth workers, Danielle, if she could describe the kinds of backgrounds these young people came from. She laughed, understanding why I was asking the question, but uncertain how to respond neatly when the answer is so complex. She tells me the story of Sally*. In year 8 Sally was referred to XLP, on the verge of being kicked out of school. Danielle set up weekly meetings with her and told her that if she let her, Danielle would be her biggest cheerleader. With sustained, consistent interactions from someone who wasn’t in a position of authority, Sally started to turn a corner. She successfully finished school and college, is part of XLP’s youth advisory panel and is now doing an apprenticeship in carpentry. 

It seems to be that the key to their youth work is its long-term mission. This sustained investment of time and energy for the young people is vital when their lives are so chaotic. Youth worker Camila believes that it’s the strong sense of community and belonging they create that is crucial. They are not there as a teacher or parent, but take the place of a gentle friend, offering guidance as necessary. The youth workers have to work hard to earn the right for each young person to trust them. 

XLP’s approach is also multi-faceted, with a tapestry of nine separate but interrelated projects: the buses that visit housing estates, mobile recording studios, employability programmes, sports and arts programmes, their input at schools (including some of the Haberdashers’ south London schools) and individual mentoring. Collectively these interventions bring about sustained change. 

I spoke to another of their youth workers, Steven. He used to come to XLP as a boy, and is now part of XLP’s management structure. He categorically states that ‘if it wasn’t for XLP I would be dead or in prison’. This stark reality brings home the significance of their work. 

Steven kindly insisted on giving me a lift to the nearest station, rather than me taking the bus. In those few moments we covered issues of white and black privilege (my visit was days following the murder of Sabina Nessa) and the lack of local opportunities for young people (the filming of the new Batman film in a nearby venue gave no opportunities to local young people). XLP’s youth workers are truly exceptional people. 

Dan, Phil, Tom, Danielle and Camila


The Pepys Road estate


‘If it wasn’t for XLP I would be dead or in prison’ 

XLP youth worker


Tom and Steven



Susan Barry

Director for Charities



Addendum: XLP now has the chance to be awarded a grant of £100,000 from Persimmon Homes with daily voting from now until the 19th November: https://bit.ly/3AYaXro