We are delighted to feature an interview with Patrick Regan OBE, the founder and CEO of urban and youth work charity XLP. Since its beginning in 1996, XLP has grown from working in a single school to operating in over 75 schools and numerous communities across Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Islington, Camden and Lambeth. In the early days, Patrick began by hosting a lunch-time club on school premises that taught the kids about their own heroes, and in particular how those heroes behaved. Today, on a day-to-day basis, XLP has projects dealing with a wide variety of issues including gang culture, anger management and violence, poverty, prejudice, racism and image and identity.
For an example of the impact XLP makes, read Sephton’s story: “When it comes to anger, anger is like a driving force to hide the emotions that you are actually going through. I got rejected and rejection is a pain, so I put up these walls and anger in the forefront of it all. I wanted people to fear me so they couldn’t really see me. So my anger was a lie.”
Why did you set up XLP?
I set up XLP 20 years ago as a result of a stabbing in a local school. The school phoned the church where I was a youth worker and asked us to help raise the ‘moral fibre of the school’. I responded, went into the school; and really just tried to ask the school what are the key issues for inner city young people. The school had 65 mother tongue languages, so it wasn’t that the kids were thick or stupid they just didn’t understand what was being taught. I met kids who wore bullet proof vests to school because they were scared, and 14 year-old girls who were desperate to get pregnant. So, I decided to find 17 people to give me £25 per month, and to set up XLP. XL stood for wanting kids to excel in everything they do, and P stood for project. We wanted everything we did to be about creating positive futures for young people. Since then it’s expanded across London to work with 1500 young people 1-2-1 or in small groups every week.
Who has been the most influential mentor in your role as founder and CEO of XLP?
When I think back, to just before I started XLP, I used to go to this church and the leader there was so unbelievably encouraging towards me. I was only 16 at the time and I was getting really passionate about justice and issues around homelessness, exclusion and poverty and he really backed me and really believed in me. He decided to almost take a back seat and let me drive it forward and allowed me to make mistakes and was there for me when I did make them.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing an organisation such as XLP?
It sounds boring but it has to be money and resourcing and I think it’s a constant challenge for a charity XLP’s size.
What single thing would make your life easier?
Well with money and resources that would make my life easier, but particularly if people would back the charity, for example, core costs. XLP can often get funding for things like buses, but we struggle more to get funding for the hub of the organisation. And also to have a Government which thought strategically across London – that thought about how things work between boroughs and which had a long term strategic plan for London as a whole, which was long term not short term, not just number driven.
In a movie of your life story, which actor would you like to play you?
I have absolutely no idea – Kermit the Frog?
What would be your dream job if you didn’t work in the charitable sector?
Maybe peacekeeping for the UN or something like that, I’d be interested in doing something around justice. I don’t know, I can’t imagine not being in the Charitable Sector!
What do you do to relax?
I love walking the dog and going to the gym.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere that has mountains and lakes.
What is your biggest extravagance?
Having four children!
What piece of advice would you give your 25 year old self?
Someone once said to me that sometimes you need to learn to put your own oxygen mask on first, obviously referring to when you’re on an aeroplane. And I think sometimes we can burn ourselves out so quickly because we don’t do that, because it can feel selfish. But actually if you care for yourself then you’re much more likely to care for others and it’s a lesson that I’m continually learning. Brené Brown said the most compassionate people are the most boundaried people which I thought was a bit weird but looking at how you look after yourself means you can care for others as well and means you can go the extra mile and look out for those who are less fortunate than you are.