Streetwise Youth

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Streetwise Youth (SWY) was an organisation for male prostitutes.

It was originally established in 1985 by Richie McMullen and Father Bill Kirkpatrick, to provide support, advice and care to young men selling or exchanging sex, mainly in the Earl's Court area. It worked in partnership with Barnardo's.[1]

SWY closed in 1993, but a new Management Committee was formed, a report was produced by Kensington and Chelsea NHS Health Authority, and the organisation was re-launched in December 1994. The Drop-In service was re-established and clients could come in and get free food and access shower and laundry facilities, medical services and advice and information.

In the late 1990s, the male sex industry developed rapidly. There was less sex being sold and exchanged on the streets in London and more through mobile phone contact via cafes, bars, adverts in the press and through the Internet. The taboos around male and transgender prostitution reduced and there was a growing demand and support for the recognition of and rights of sex workers. Fewer of SWY's clients also identified as street homeless. They choose instead to stay in a variety of other environments they considered safer, such as with punters or on floors and sofas at friends' homes or staying up all night in saunas and clubs. Increasingly, new clients reported making the adult choice to enter the sex industry rather than simply having to as a means of survival, or having been coerced.

In 2002, SWY bought the freehold of its premises in Eardley Crescent, and had them refurbished. The focus of the service was changed, to cater for all ages, not just youth, and client services changed from the old style Drop-In into a more modern café setting. The name "Streetwise Youth" still reflected the original aim of working with youth who were on the streets. The name chosen was "SW5", "SW" could be taken as standing for Streetwise or Sex Worker and SW5 reflected the postcode.

Following the change, client numbers increased considerably, but funding became difficult. It was decided to merge with the Terrence Higgins Trust, which kept the project going during the financial year 2004/05, but in the longer term the merger meant the loss of nearly all the funding from charitable trusts. Subsequently the building was sold, the service transferred to the THT headquarters in King's Cross, and the TW5 name dropped in favour of SWISH.


  1. Male Prostitution (1992) by Donald West and Buz De Villiers: the book came from Streetwise Youth's work.