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Patrick Regan OBE, Honorary Fellow

“To change people’s lives, we need to commit to staying the course” - Patrick Regan OBE discusses the importance of youth and education in social change

Patrick Regan OBE has been made an Honorary Fellow for his valuable contribution to peace and social justice. He is founder and CEO of urban youth charity XLP, a passionate advocate for young people around the world, a communicator on social justice issues, an author, an advisor to the Centre for Social Justice and a UK Ambassador for Compassion.

Patrick explains the experiences and inspirations that were instrumental in his achievements.

"My view of life changed very suddenly when I was 16. I was in London on a two-week project working with homeless people. One evening I was sitting in cardboard city under Waterloo Bridge. One of the homeless guys I’d got to know was sharing a burger around the group. There was some graffiti behind us that said 'Welcome to reality' and the injustice just suddenly hit me. These were intelligent people who endured terrible hardships. Their sense of community was inspiring and I decided that as soon as I could I’d start to work on social justice issues, helping people who were excluded from the mainstream.

Setting up a charity

"I set up XLP by asking friends and family to give me £25 a month. By that point I was a church youth worker trying to live out my faith and working with young people on the estates. A stabbing incident in a local school led to me being assigned there. The school really opened my eyes. Literacy was a huge problem and levels of violence were very high. I worked with students on conflict resolution and found mentors for some of them. I was so shocked by the low expectations of these students that I decided to start my own charity to work with them. I called it XLP (eXceL Project).

The impact of relationships

"If you can keep a young person in education, you can make a huge difference to their life chances. We have some amazing volunteers and mentors who do this. Our last batch of mentees were chosen because they were on the verge of being kicked out of school. A year later, 85-90% of them are still in school. That’s a huge return for those young people in terms of improved life chances and also for society as a whole.

If a kid gets kicked out of education the cost to society is huge in terms of unemployment, criminality, court costs. It costs £40,000 a year to keep someone in prison, and children’s homes cost £3000 a week. We aim to get to these kids earlier and provide role models and support to help them through.

Patrick Regan OBE

"Relationships nurture the belief that change is possible. Sometimes the change may look small. We may help the young person look for a job or simply try to improve their self-esteem. The key is building trust. We offer young people support through an ongoing relationship with someone on the ground, not someone who is parachuted in to deal with a crisis. Trust is a huge issue for the kids we work with, so it takes a great deal of time and patience to build a relationship that works for them. It’s the reason our workers live on the estates, so they really are alongside the young person day to day.

Commitment to a cause

"With a charity the money has to follow the vision – you can’t just chase money. The environment for charities is particularly challenging at the moment. There’s less money than ever and after Kids Company, people can be distrustful. It’s become harder for those of us who do things by the book. I know that our approach works but I still have to spend huge amounts of time trying to get governments and local authorities to invest in it.

It’s important that politicians understand these are not short-term projects. In order for us to change people’s lives we need to look beyond the next photo opportunity or election and commit to staying the course.

Patrick Regan OBE

"When I work with politicians I try to influence through integrity. The Centre for Social Justice asked me to talk at the Conservative Party Conference in 2007 and my first reaction was 'No – I’m not a politician or an academic', but I did it and had a great response. Since then I have done a lot more of this work because I think it’s important that policies aren’t created solely by people who sit in Whitehall. I feel that the best thing I can do is to introduce politicians to young people on the ground so they can see the difficulties they face and really understand how political decisions can affect their life chances.

A tapestry of experiences

"I’ve been to some amazing places in my work and found myself in some scary situations. I’ve travelled to the world’s poorest countries and some of the most violent. I’ve mediated between rival gang leaders and led a peace march in Trenchtown, Jamaica, been an advocate for the poor in Bolivia and set up a school project in Ghana. I’m not a particularly brave guy but I believe in showing up and being seen for who I am – sometimes vulnerable and weak, like everyone else. The work we do with young people is not a showreel, it’s a beautiful mess of successes and failures, difficulties and doubts."

Find out more about Honorary Awards at LSBU.