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Our Leadership

As a mutual, we are fundamentally owned and run by professional youth workers (70%) and Lewisham’s young people (30%). Both are represented on the board by elected staff and youth directors respectively as well as a network of staff and youth forums. We have an executive management team (EMT) with a track record in delivering youth services in Lewisham, with expert non-executives bringing with them new skillsets to help us take Youth First to the next level.

Youth First Board

We have built our Board in a careful and considered way. Experience of the social and third sectors and a commercial focus was specifically targeted to select the right Non-Executive Directors. This has brought people who are able to recognise and support the social mission but are aware of our need to grow and develop our business development capacity. This will ensure a built-in preservation instinct that forms the foundation for Youth First and offers the best chance of sustaining and improving youth services in Lewisham.


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 Committee and chairs The Ladywell Assembly. Her passion for wanting the best youth provision for young people and their families in Lewisham is central to her work as a local councillor.

Catriona Coleman

Non-executive Director

Catriona chairs the Risk and 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

Linda Brookbanks

Board Secretary (non-voting)

Linda is responsible for HR and Governance for Youth First. She has worked for Lewisham Council from 1986 and transferred her diverse skills, experience and knowledge to aid the smooth running of Youth First since September 2016. Her responsibilities as part of HR includes recruitment, payroll and workforce development.

Our governance structure

Youth First is governed by its Board and in turn the Executive Management Team (EMT). There are currently six committees alongside EMT that make up the Board, and each is led by a Board member.


Executive Management Team


Mervyn Kaye

Chief Executive Officer

Shalena Haughton-Peters

Director of Operations

Shalena is responsible for Youth and Play universal face-to-face services including the management of 12 units inclusive of street-based offer and the Universal Safety School Program and Schools provision. Shalena has 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. Her responsibilities also include the facilitation of youth voice and participation and engagement and service commissioning and Quality Mark.

Linda Brookbanks

Director of HR

Linda is responsible for HR and Governance for Youth First. She has worked for Lewisham Council from 1986 and transferred her diverse skills, experience and knowledge to aid the smooth running of Youth First since September 2016. Her responsibilities as part of HR includes recruitment, payroll and workforce development.

Lorna Service

Director of Finance

Lorna is responsible for Finance for Youth First. She has over 20 years’ experience in the charity/not-for-profit sector in a variety of finance roles. Lorna has transferrable interpersonal and finance skills.


Operations Managers


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 9 years.

Muhammad Rahmani

Operations Manager

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