Meet Helen Mann: CEO of Young Westminster Foundation

Introducing the people behind central London’s vital charities and community organisations: Helen Mann, CEO of Young Westminster Foundation.


Young Westminster Foundation, part of the nationwide network of Young People’s Foundations, was set up in response to funding cuts back in 2017. Our charity is a membership organisation that brings together not-for-profit groups that work with children and young adults in Westminster, up to the age of 25. Our members include youth clubs, sports clubs and mental health organisations and the support we provide to them ranges from targeted funding to training and qualifications for youth workers. We also link them to other stakeholders in the borough, such as the council, local businesses, the NHS and the police. 

Working in collaboration with our members and partners, we’re committed to ensuring that the borough provides its young residents with the opportunities they deserve. Collectively, our vision is for all young people in Westminster to grow up healthy, safe and happy. 

Our strategy is shaped by a needs analysis conducted by Young Westminster Foundation on a three-year cycle. This peer-led research informs us about what young people in Westminster think about the borough they live in, what they like, what they don’t like, what they think the big issues are. Our third piece of research, published last November, is called Our City, Our Future. Some of the issues are the same every time, including employability, mental health, safety and the struggle to access affordable housing. In this research, the two most striking things that we hadn’t heard much about before related to young people’s concerns around social media and vaping. 

Off the back of our analysis, we publish a set of recommendations that the whole Westminster community can then be involved in delivering. The youth voice element is really important, and it doesn’t end with the research. We have a team of young people who hold us to account by asking what we’ve actually done about each issue – they really do keep us on our toes. Two of the young people who were involved with our needs analysis in the past are now on our board of trustees. Another is former Lord Mayor of Westminster, Hamza Taouzzale, who was on the panel when I had my interview in 2017. 

In order to address the specific issues raised by young people, we organise a wide range of specialist programmes. About four years ago we commissioned one of our partners, 2-3 Degrees, to set up the Mastering My Future employability programme. This programme, which is now completely funded by businesses, runs during school holidays and gives young people in Westminster the chance to find out about the opportunities that exist within a particular sector. That could, for example, be banking and finance, or it could be marketing and communications. The theme for the February half term this year was property – the young people who attended had four days of events, workshops and visits to property companies in Westminster to find out how they might kickstart a career in the industry. What do they need to do at school? Do they need to go to university? Are there apprenticeships available? There is often the potential to do some work experience or be part of a mentoring programme. 

The appeal to businesses is that they’re getting access to highly motivated young people who they might not normally reach and who live right on their doorstep. And for young people, they’re learning that careers they might not have considered, careers they thought weren’t for people like them, really are a possibility. They get to enter some of those scarylooking buildings and realise that there’s nothing to fear. It really opens up their horizons. 

Serious youth violence is another major issue highlighted in the most recent report. Working with Westminster City Council and London’s Violence Reduction Unit, we set up the Helping Hands programme, which is bringing the community together to tackle youth violence in northwest and northeast Westminster. Again, it is led by the voices of young people and the communities they live in. Through our network, the programme develops interventions proposed by community members affected by serious youth violence. We allocate the funding, and then members of the network decide how it should be spent in their local area to best address the serious issues of violence. 

Our work is extremely varied, but everything we do is about bringing people together to work towards a common cause. We put people in touch with each other and make the appropriate introductions. For example, if the NHS is looking to put money into mental health services, we will find a local partner who can deliver that in the best way possible. Young people don’t like being pulled out of school to go and see a counsellor in a mental health setting, but what they do like is for their local youth club to have a mental health youth worker who they can go and talk to. It’s about identifying the best way to spend the money so that it has the strongest possible impact, and then finding the best partner to deliver that service. 

Our programmes are only as good as the funding we can generate for our member organisations. That’s why we set up an annual Brighter Futures grants round. We went out to the Westminster business community, and now have a growing number of growth partners, including The Howard de Walden Estate. Howard de Walden has been a partner right from the beginning, and their work with us now goes far beyond donating money. They support us in all sorts of ways, participating in our employability programme, welcoming young people into their offices, or even sending a surveyor to help one of our members with a building issue. We’re really happy to have been chosen to be their charity partner for the Marylebone Summer Festival in June. 

I have been with Young Westminster Foundation since 2017 and took over as CEO in September 2022. We’re a team of nine, and my role is to ensure that every function within that team is supporting our members and, by extension, the young people of the borough – and, most importantly, doing so in a way that those young people have told us is meaningful. 

I believe that our charity’s work has made young people feel more optimistic about the future. It has given them opportunities to participate in our programmes and feel that they can really make a difference, both to their own lives and the wider community. We’re always hearing about how young people are apathetic and don’t want to get involved, but that’s not our experience at all. When presented with opportunities, Westminster’s young people are picking them up and taking them forward with real energy. And they do have a strong and well-informed view on things. What we’ve learned along the way is that you should never ask a young person what they think unless you’re ready to hear the answer! They always have a view, and they usually express that view with real passion. Our job is to harness all that youthful enthusiasm. 

Knowing the potential they have, I love that we’re able to offer these young people the opportunities they deserve. We work for them. Rather than me deciding what we should do, handing out instructions from on high, it really does feel that it’s they themselves who are leading us to improve the outcomes for their communities.


Interview: Jean-Paul Aubin-Parvu 

Images: Orlando Gili