Senior Management Team

Youth First has a Senior Management Team with a track record in delivering youth services in Lewisham.

Mervyn Kaye

Chief Executive Officer

Mervyn Kaye has over 20 years’ experience in the children and young people’s sector including frontline youth work, strategy and policy management, commissioning, head of youth services for a local authority and Youth First CIO’s founding CEO.  Mervyn believes in ensuring young people get equality of outcomes regardless of their backgrounds. Furthermore that youth and play work, especially relationships with youth workers, increases the chance of this being the case for young people and communities. As a Mancunian by birth he is a passionate Manchester United supporter and loves to relax with a good comic book.

Gülen Petty

Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Gülen is strategic leader with extensive income generation skills, organisational strategy building knowledge and change management experience. She started her career as a scientist after studying chemistry (BSC, MSc and PhD).  She worked as a senior research associate at University of East Anglia before taking a role as a senior scientist at a pharmaceutical company. Her passion for supporting causes that help communities and vulnerable people started from an early age. Whilst working as a scientist leading and managing high- profile pharmaceutical projects she took a leap of faith to change her career and move into the not for profit sector. After working in some of the biggest and national charities in the UK such as Missing People and MS Society, leading individual, community and events fundraising teams, she decided to use her skills and knowledge gained through working bigger organisations to transform smaller, grassroots charities. She has worked for several local charities changing work culture, streamlining processes and enabling charities to work seamlessly with technology in diversifying income. Before joining Youth First, Gülen worked as a Head of Fundraising, Partnerships and Comms at Lewisham-based homelessness charity 999 Club. She also took on management of the organisation’s volunteering functions. During the beginning of the pandemic Gülen stepped up to work as Acting Deputy CEO to the interim CEO, developing services and enabling the charity to become financially stable.

Shalena Haughton-Peters

Operations Director

Shalena has a Masters in Applied Anthropology, Youth and Community Work, has over 20 years of experience in the field from grass roots to senior strategy experience in managing and delivering youth provision. Her training included NEBOSH, SEND, Trauma informed practice and Restorative work. Her current management includes Open Access (Youth and Adventure play) and Targeted provision including youth voice, a 121 service and a street based offer as well as facilitating safeguarding, operational health and safety and Quality Mark. Shalena has passionately worked for Lewisham Council since 2000 and transferred her diverse skills, experience and knowledge to aid the smooth running of Youth First since September 2016. She is a trustee for London Play and is also the Co-Chair of the SE BCU Community Engagement Board. Shalena is passionate about Youth and Community work and has developed and implemented a number of Youth programs to meet the needs of young people.

Muhammad Rahmani

Operations Manager


Aminata Swaray

Operations Manager

Aminata has a degree in Youth and Community studies and has worked in Youth First and Lewisham Youth Services for over 11 years. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and young people and is responsible for managing the Targeted provision within the organisation.

Selina Grant

Business Support Manager

Selina joined Youth First in January 2022 as a Business Support Manager; primarily overseeing the HR function of the service.  Selina's previous employment includes working for Adult Learning Lewisham as a Business Resources Team Leader, this is where she began her HR career gaining her CIPD Associate level professional qualification; she then went on to work as a People Operations Manager for a large multi academy trust. Selina lives in the borough of Lewisham and came to Youth First as she was keen to utilise her experience to help the organisation achieve its goals for the local youth and wider community. Outside of work Selina enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters and tries to remain physically active by doing yoga and aerobic classes.

Youth First Board

The Youth First Board is created in a considered way to include those with experience in the social sector, third sector and commercial worlds. This has brought Non-Executive Directors who recognise and support the social mission of Youth First but are also aware of the organisation's need to grow and develop its business development capacity. It ensures Youth First has the best chance of sustaining and growing youth services in Lewisham. Meet our expert board:

Val Davison


Val joined the Youth First Board as Chair in May 2020. She has lived in South East London all her adult life having moved initially to Whitechapel to train as a nurse at the London Hospital whilst also studying at Goldsmiths College in Lewisham when it was part of the University of London. She is also a graduate of Brunel University and Henley Management College. After a successful career working in, and for, the NHS and other healthcare providers in the UK and abroad Val continues to support the NHS as a Non-Executive Director. Val currently lives in Dulwich and is Chair of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust where she has led the Board in the turnaround of the organisation’s performance and quality of service delivery. She is passionate about doing what she can to address the inequalities in life chances and health outcome that so often derive from economic or social disadvantage and also in supporting people to fulfil their potential in life whatever their circumstances.

Paula McDonald CBE

Vice Chair

Paula has a background in organisation development, human resources, governance and social and economic policy. She began her career setting up local social and community enterprises then, as a senior manager in local government, leading a large personnel service. She later delivered borough-wide economic development and service reviews to improve value for money, winning national awards for quality and innovation. Moving to the Cabinet Office and the senior civil service, Paula led policy and projects for the Prime Minister's Office and the Economic and Domestic Affairs Group on workforce planning, pay, transformation, leadership and diversity, covering the 5 million strong public sector workforce. She went on to lead the introduction of an Act of Parliament to improve the governance, accountability and efficiency of over 1,000 UK public bodies. Paula was made CBE for her services to the Cabinet Office and public services. She has continued to pursue her passion for voluntary and community activity as a Trustee and Non-Executive Director in a number of roles across the health, youth, homelessness and education sectors. Paula joined the Youth First Board in 2016. She is currently Vice Chair, and served as interim chair in 2019/20.

Mash Seriki

Non-executive Director

Mash has a background in marketing, communications, internet business services and fundraising.  More recently, he has run his own company which is a leading provider of training and learning solutions to dentists and other health care professionals. He has worked with young people in the Jewish and Nigerian communities . H is three lifelong passions are education, communications and technology. They underpin a wish to improve the lives of young people living in deprived circumstances and particularly black teenagers with whom he shares a common ethnicity. Mash works in Holborn but lives in Dulwich, just over the border from Lewisham .

Sharon Long

Non-executive Director

Sharon joined the Youth First Board in 2018.  She has worked extensively across the voluntary and statutory sector with a specific focus on children and young people’s services. She sits on the national youth policy advisory group and is the Director of Partnership for Young London. She is the chair of governors at a Lewisham Primary School and has completed the National Governance Association training for excellence in governance. Sharon has strong links in place across London with the GLA, London Councils, Healthy London Partnerships and the network for Independent Funders. Her daughter has attended youth provision in Lewisham. Sharon is passionate about securing services for young people.

Liz Johnston-Franklin

Non-executive Director

Liz has a background in Youth and Community Work... having worked for local authorities in London, Kent and Medway. She currently sits on the Children and Young People’s Select

Catriona Coleman

Non-executive Director

Catriona chairs the Risk & Audit sub-committee.  She is a solicitor with over 10 years’ experience with a specialism in commercial litigation and dispute resolution. Catriona is currently employed by a leading City law firm.

Susan Shakespeare

Non-executive Director

Susan’s background is in the management and delivery of children’s services including, play, youth and early years.  She has a particular focus on children and young people that services find harder to reach and children and young people who face education and social disadvantages. She has extensive experience of leadership and people management, programme management and governance and has served on a number of boards. She works in central government in education policy and delivery and has extensive knowledge of children, families and education policy including delivering improved outcomes for children.

Adam Barrett

Non-executive Director


Terry James

Non-executive Advisor

Terry, a Chartered Engineer is the Managing Director and Principal of an international built environment consultancy.  He specializes in performance optimization and leads strategic change using structured management methodologies. He has served as a NED, Senior Executive and Advisor in Health, Government, Sports, Education, Housing and Regeneration since 1998.

Mervyn Kaye



Nicola Lambell

Employee Representative