Alumni volunteers share their thoughts for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked our alumni volunteers what ‘good’ mental health meant to them, how they managed their wellbeing and what tips they had for current students. We’ll be adding to this page with their thoughts throughout the week and you can also read how Future First staff are balancing their own wellbeing here.

Monica is a former student from Ashmole Academy, Southgate and is a writer and poet studying English Literature at university. 

As someone who has struggled with mental health, writing is my source of joy and expression. 

We are constantly surrounded by and immersed in pressure. Whether that is dealing with societal pressures or cultural or familial pressures from people around us that have a vision for what they want us to achieve and what they want our lives to look like. It can be difficult to navigate our own identities and find our voice and sense of ‘self’ because these external pressures do not always grant us enough space to do so. 

When I allow myself time to write, my mind is able to take a break from overthinking and over-analysing every aspect of my life. This is because I become so immersed in either the new reality I am constructing in a fictional scene or pouring emotions and thoughts into my poetry that I didn’t even realise I needed to release. I love how freeing it feels to write candidly and passionately and how it is not something arduous that I am obligated to complete, its sole purpose is for myself because I genuinely love it and it brings me happiness.

One piece of advice I would offer my younger self is to do more things in service of myself such as seek counselling because doing so later in life really helped me to discover more about myself and recognise things that I need to heal. And I would also encourage myself to journal, read more non-fiction and write frequently to nurture my writing skills so that when I am older, they are more developed. I would also encourage myself to not fixate so much on things beyond my control but to be a little more care free and enjoy the present because I’ll feel nostalgic over it in years to come.

I would absolutely suggest that young people take part in writing. Learning to carve a voice for yourself through this medium is really empowering. Writing can help you to connect with yourself and explore your different layers. It is a form of expression and as emotions are complicated and often difficult to understand, let alone articulate to others, writing aids in processing and releasing them and this can feel really healing and cathartic. Language and words are extremely powerful and yours may resonate deeply for someone reading. They may feel represented and acknowledged through your work so it can be rewarding knowing that your words have connected with someone else’s heart and mind so intimately. Writing is so versatile; there is no one way or right way to write and that’s why it is so beautiful. You can experiment with different forms and styles and discover where your voice thrives the most. Ultimately it is important to do things for ourselves that bring us joy to illuminate the mundanity of life. Writing offers the possibility of that, so I would definitely recommend young people explore it.

Xenia is a former student of Southgate School, Enfield, and is now a successful personal trainer. We asked Xenia to share her experience of balancing mental wellbeing with daily life and what her advice would be for her younger self.

What impact does training have on your mental health?

Training is a way of taking some time out for myself. Weight training makes me feel strong, it challenges me and allows me to mentally focus on one thing- rather than listen to all the chatter in my head. Whenever I feel anxious, apathetic or I start to ruminate, exercising helps me remain in the here and now. I guess you could liken it to meditation in the sense that I focus on my breathing, my movement and my intention. Plus, the rush of endorphins I get after a session always lifts my mood! 

Can you share any of your own experiences with balancing your mental health and wellbeing with daily life and work?

I suffer from OCD and GAD (generalised anxiety disorder), things often overwhelm me or play on my mind. I’ve found that taking some time to practice a few things before I get out of bed really helps me calm down before the day has even begun. I always meditate in the morning, even if it’s just for five minutes. I try to journal, sometimes I write a whole paragraph, sometimes I write down three things I’m grateful for. I’ll take time to answer any messages I have on my phone. Sometimes, I read a little or listen to an audiobook just to kick start my day. Routine is key for me so I try to stick to it most days, without putting too much pressure on myself. 

If there was one piece of advice you could give your younger self, what would it be?

Stop worrying about things that are out of your control. You can’t control other people’s feelings towards you – as long as you know you are a kind and respectful person and you demonstrate that in your daily life – it really doesn’t matter what other people think of you. 

Why do you think fitness and exercising could be helpful to young people?

For a young person in today’s society, everything can be so overwhelming – it’s all larger than life and it’s all out there for everyone to see. Training will give a young person another outlet in which they can challenge themselves and feel strong. Strong, not only physically but also emotionally – it gives you confidence to try something new whilst also allowing you to be vulnerable in situations that may make you feel a little anxious. This strength can be translated into daily life.

 

Daksha is a  former student from Whitmore High School, Harrow, she shares her top five tips for current students and young people:

  1. Don’t ever feel guilty or ashamed about how you feel. If you face up to how you feel, you can then address it.
  2. It’s important to like yourself and not focus on whether others like you. Looking for affirmation from others will always lead to disappointment. 
  3. Have someone who you can call to offload on if needed. They may not be able to help you, but they can listen. Even if you say, “I’m having a bad day and don’t have a lot to say, so tell me about your day instead” or “I know you can’t help but I just needed to say how I’m feeling out loud”.  Being honest helps people help you better.
  4. It’s OK to fail. It’s what you do afterwards that’s more important. Failure should not be about how bad you feel or what you did, but what you learn from it and what you will do differently next time.
  5. Turn negative to positives. It’s sometimes hard to do this but it can be something simple, for example: change “I don’t feel like getting out of bed today” to “I don’t feel like getting of bed today, but I will shower and freshen up, put on fresh pyjamas and get back into bed”.

 

Useful links

Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health issue.
Young Minds provides information, advice and training for young people, parents, carers and professionals.
Student Minds is a mental health charity that works with students, service users, professionals and academics to develop new and innovative ways to improve the mental health of students.
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a helpline for young males aged 16 to 35 years, suffering from depression and low self-esteem.
Nightline is a student listening service which is open at night and run by students for students.

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Markerstudy

Markerstudy is striving to improve opportunities for more young people by giving them exclusive insight into a career in the insurance services industry. 

Through a new partnership with education charity Future First, Markerstudy will offer state school and college students the support, advice and encouragement they need to consider a career in insurance services, allowing the business to connect with up-and-coming talent.

Wellcome Trust

Wellcome and Future First partner to deliver Career Insight Days for young people at state schools in London. Staff from across the Trust participate, including those from communications, research, grants and investments departments. The volunteers coach and support students in creative activities designed to build students’ confidence and to help them identify their strengths.

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Northern Power Women

Future First is working with Northern Power Women (NPW) to give the next generation the support and encouragement they need to make a success of their lives, while also allowing businesses to connect with up-and-coming talent. NPW was born out of a need to accelerate gender equality in the North and currently has a 60,000-strong network.

There are approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.

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Governers for Schools

Governors for Schools is a national education charity that finds, places, and supports skilled volunteers as governors on school and academy boards. We work with schools and volunteers across England to improve education for children and young people through effective governance.

We have over 20 years’ experience matching volunteers with schools in need. Our skills-based matching service means your unique background and experience will be put to good use. Apply online and we’ll match your skillset to a school that needs you most.

 

Fast Futures

Future First is pleased to be supporting Avado Learning with its flagship careers programme: FastFutures. FastFutures is a ground-breaking online work-readiness and personal skills programme for young people (18-22) from diverse backgrounds designed to prioritise underrepresented groups that are finding it harder than ever to enter the workplace. Founding Employer Partners, including Legal & General, Astra Zeneca, BT, Barclays, Tate & Lyle, AO.com, Octopus Investments, Health Education England, provide funding and mentoring to deliver this unique programme free of charge.

Arc Pensions Law

As an Employer Partner, ARC Pensions Law supports Future First’s work by inviting Year 12 students from Future First’s network of schools who are eligible for free school meals or have parents who did not attend university to complete a week’s work experience placement at their London and Leeds office locations. Students have the opportunity to experience all aspects of a modern law firm, developing their professional and employability skills for a future career in law.

ZING were one of Future First’s original supporters and have remained a key partner and critical friend throughout our development. ZING have continued to advise on and support Future First’s technology development. ZING co-founders Chris White and Robin Tombs (currently) have also both served on Future First’s board.

Future First are partnering with Voi to help give young people first-hand insight into careers in STEM. Through our virtual insight days, and working in the local communities that Voi operate in, we will showcase the range of jobs available in the transport and technology sectors. These interactive sessions will help young people to feel more knowledgeable and confident about their futures and to develop their networking and employability skills through hearing directly from a diverse range of Voi employees.

State School Fundraising

State School Fundraising support state schools to build fundraising strategies, and have successfully helped a number of state schools to raise significant amounts. We are pleased to be working with State School Fundraising to pilot an approach to fundraising with alumni communities.

UBS have funded Future First’s In-House programme in the Bridge Academy, Hackney. The programme is designed to provide the school with hands-on support from Future First staff to embed an alumni programme across the school. The Bridge Academy has their own dedicated Future Fist Alumni Officer, who spends part of their time ‘in house’ at the school, helping staff to build and manage their network of former students and tracking the destination of students as they leave each year.

Since 2010, international law firm, Taylor Wessing, have worked in close partnership with Future First collaborating on a number of social mobility programmes. The most recent ‘Aspiration to Application’ programme provides students with careers insights, skills workshops, mentoring relationships and work experience opportunities. Simultaneously the school alumni networks project provides inspirational and relatable role models to students at their own schools. These initiatives aim to equip young people to reach their full potential.

Taylor Wessing and Future First have worked closely to develop this unique programme of social mobility events, carefully designed to provide the best possible outcomes for students and volunteers alike. Taylor Wessing’s professional volunteers are able to share their experiences and skills drawn from a wide range of career paths for the benefit of a young person’s social mobility. Moreover, these volunteering opportunities encourage Taylor Wessing’s staff and clients to take part in skills-based volunteering – developing their own skills at the same time as helping young people with low social mobility.

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Shawbrook Bank

Shawbrook Bank and Future First work together to inspire young people in state schools near reach of Shawbrook’s offices. This included supporting Future First to pilot working in Scotland for the first time. Shawbrook also encourage their employees to sign up to their old school or college alumni network.

Legal & General

Legal & General is a British multinational financial services company including investment management, lifetime mortgages, pensions, annuities, and life assurance. With our partnership, state school students with an interest in the financial services from Year 10-12 attend a virtual taster workshop. Acting as role-models in the world of work, volunteers from Legal & General participate in a Q&A panel and skills-building activities that develop students’ aspirations, employability skills and awareness of the world of work whilst providing an opportunity for Legal & General employees to gain awareness of issues regarding social mobility in the UK.

The Key and Future First partner to deliver Career Insight Days for young people at state schools in Plymouth and London. The whole day events aim to improve the employability skills and work readiness of Year 12 students. Staff from across the organisation volunteer their time, sharing their professional expertise in a variety of activities including CV writing, mock interviews and presentation skills workshops. Volunteers coach and support students, building their confidence and helping a young person understand the value of their own skills and strengths.

Gatenby Sanderson

GatenbySanderson is a UK leading people intelligence business advising public services, not-for-profit and education sectors. As an employer partner, GatenbySanderson supports Future First’s work with young people by contributing volunteers to the national and local alumni networks who attend our in-school and virtual workshops. Their expert staff are well placed to support young people with employability skills activities such as CV writing, psychometric testing, interview advice and tips on future careers. GatenbySanderson also supports the Future First central team with training requirements, business support and fundraising.

The multinational law firm Ashurst partners with Future First on the First Steps Programme. The programme sees 60 Year 6 pupils from Bonner Primary School in Tower Hamlets, London visit Ashurst’s London offices for a series of five insight mornings that provide pupils with aspiration raising experience and increased awareness of the careers available on their doorstep. Supported by over 40 Ashurst employee volunteers the interactive programme enhances pupils’ awareness of the types of jobs they might want to do in the future, develops their understanding of the steps to pursuing them and, begins to build the confidence and skills needed to excel in their academic and working lives.

Prince's Trust

The Prince’s Trust supports young people between the ages of 11-30 into employment; education or training, helping to build both confidence and skills.

In 2019, the Prince’s Trust embarked on a project with The Department of Health and Social Care to support 10,000 young people (between the ages of 16-30) into jobs in the Health and Social Care sector by July 2024 and it is partnering with Future First to ensure that those involved services are prioritised for upcoming Prince’s Trust courses and services.

 

WeAreTheCity

Future First is delighted to be working with WeAreTheCity, connecting inspirational messages from their Rising Stars award winners with students in our schools and colleges. WeAreTheCity is a free, centralised hub and includes gender-related news, a networks directory, calendar of events and conferences, returnships, business schools, inspirational women profiles, HeForShe interviews, giving back and jobs.

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Careers and Enterprise Company

Future First has received funding from the government’s Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) since 2016 to boost social mobility by helping prepare young people for the world of work.

Rothschild & co

Rothschild & Co. Charitable Giving Programme support Future First to develop and implement an innovative employability skills programme supporting young people at risk of being NEET (not entering education, employment or training).

The Waterloo Foundation

Future first is delighted to be working with The Waterloo Foundation to build alumni networks in schools across Powys, South Wales

Pears Foundation

The Pears Foundation plays a key role in supporting Future First’s core work. Our partnership with The Pears Foundation has underpinned our national expansion and our transition to a more self-financing operating model. Their support has enabled us to have a bigger impact on students across our network of schools.

Jack Petchey Foundation

The Jack Petchey Foundation have supported Future First since 2013, providing subsidies for schools with the Jack Petchey Foundation Achievement Award in London and Essex, which is now our largest region.

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Garfield Weston

Garfield Weston Foundation is one of Future First’s flagship partners. Garfield Weston’s support has been vital to supporting our network of schools reach more of their former students and deepen the impact they have had on current students. The partnership has also played a key role in our transition to a more self-financing operating model. In 2021, Future First was awarded a grant of £50K to continue to extend our reach and impact and support more young people in state schools and colleges.

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Esmee Fairbairn

Future First is delighted to be working in a ground-breaking partnership in Camden, delivering a community-led mentoring programme to support school inclusion work thanks to generous support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

The Dulverton trust

The Dulverton Trust has supported Future First since 2014. Our first partnership focused on supporting Future First’s work in the North-West. Currently, the focus is on underpinning Future First’s transition to a more self-financing operating model.

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Role Models

Having grown up in the same place and attended the same school, alumni are immediately relatable to current students. This makes them ideal role models. Alumni can talk about their educational or career experiences and inspire current students to achieve their potential.

The Commercial Education Trust was one of the first supporters of Future First’s ‘Alumni in the Curriculum’ programme.. The programme sees former students return to their old classrooms to ‘co-teach’ elements of the curriculum, which relates to their jobs, demonstrating how the school curriculum links to the world of work.

This strand of our work has been developed to bring the curriculum to life and engage students by showing the practical application of learning.

Blagave Trust

The Blagrave Trust has supported the pilot of Future First’s In-House service. The project involves a Future First staff member working part-time on site to rapidly embed a culture of alumni engagement in each one. The In-House Alumni Officer for supports each school to build and grow their community of formers students to return to support today’s young people.

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Work Placements

Work experience is an invaluable opportunity for students to gain an insight into working life. Alumni can provide shadowing opportunities and placements, helping students gain not online more awareness of work, but also the skills they need to succeed when they get there.

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Fundraisers

Alumni can support their old school or college by raising money or donating to specific causes. This could be books for the library, music equipment or to fund educational visits for current students.

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Volunteering

Former students often have specific expertise to offer: from coaching a football team, to running after school clubs or designing a new garden. They can also help the school or college community to flourish by acting as governors, combining knowledge of the local community with experiences and skills they’ve gained since leaving school.

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Supporting the Curriculum

Former students can play a key role in the delivery of the core curriculum. Returning to their old classrooms, alumni enrich the curriculum by co-delivering lessons related to their careers, helping build students’ understanding of the real world application of their learning and boosting their motivation.

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Mentors

Alumni can act as mentors either online or in person, providing advice, support and guidance to students. Mentoring is tailored to the individual with specific goals in mind, offering students a purposeful new relationship to help overcome a range of challenges.

Arc Pension Law

As an Employer Partner, ARC Pensions Law supports Future First’s work by inviting Year 12 students from Future First’s network of schools who are eligible for free school meals or have parents who did not attend university to complete a week’s work experience placement at their London and Leeds office locations. Students have the opportunity to experience all aspects of a modern law firm, developing their professional and employability skills for a future career in law.