Hackney Quest’s Colette Allen on her ‘passion’ to stop youth getting involved in gangs

Colette Allen running the Virgin Hackney Half marathon. Photo: Laura Malkin

Colette Allen running the Virgin Hackney Half marathon. Photo: Laura Malkin - Credit: LAURA MALKIN

Colette Allen heads youth charity Hackney Quest, which runs activities to engage young people. She tells Emma Bartholomew how she got there

Colette Allen knew she fitted in at Hackney Quest the moment she walked through its doors 15 years ago.

“I knew I was meant to be there – I loved it,” said Colette, who started out as an administrator at the charity, which was set up in 1988 to support young people and families from Hackney.

She rose through the ranks to be a project manager, and is now director.

Born and raised in Edinburgh, the mother-of-four came to London aged 23 and worked as a legal executive and an administrator at Reuters before making the change because she “wanted to do something good in the community”.

“The idea is to engage young people with positive role models to keep them from going down the wrong path like getting involved with gangs or being excluded from school,” she explains.

The charity moved from Well Street to Poole Road and now it recruits volunteers from the community as mentors and runs a homework club and parenting and nutrition classes.

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Last year a group of teens raised funds to volunteer in Uganda and the charity has also been involved with the relaunch of Well Street Market, where young entrepreneurs run a stall selling t-shirts they designed. Hackney Quest runs youth club sessions most evenings at the Frampton Park Estate, where up to 300 eight- to 19-year-olds are registered. “My passion is stopping young people getting involved in crime or gangs,” said Colette.

She was at the Peace March on Sunday with members of Hackney Quest. “It was really emotional. I know a lot of the parents who have lost children,” she said.

“The lives of some of the young people and how they get pulled into the gang life is really sad.

“We do see it and sometimes we feel helpless. But we have seen young people not going into that life who we have managed to pull back.

“We are seen as a safe place. It’s about developing their potential wherever they are from, and seeing them through. The amazing thing is they can start at eight, become volunteers at 14, go off to university and come back to be mentors. That makes me feel so proud.

“Organisations like us who have been established long-term in the community have a long-term impact. If there’s a time for me to go I’ll know, but I’ve never felt like that – I’m passionate about it.”