Greta as role model: “If anyone needs proof of the impact a role model can have [she] certainly provides it”

By Lorraine Langham , CEO, Future First

One thing I’ve learnt from running a charity focused on connecting role models with state school pupils is that those who inspire us come in many and varied forms.

When we think of role models it’s easy to assume we mean those who inspire, motivate or guide a younger generation to follow in their footsteps. The whole idea of ‘looking up to someone’ has a tendency to paint this sort of picture. And of course, Future First does exactly that – creating and nurturing alumni networks for state school students so whatever their start in life there need be no limits on their future.

But the benefit of role models shouldn’t end when we ‘grow up’ – whatever that means! While role models can inspire younger people to strive for a better future and guide them through the daunting labyrinth of life, young people can also be role models for older generations too.

It was the inspiration of just such a young role model that recently led me to take a break as Chief Executive of Future First and march 500 miles from Parliament to Glasgow ahead of the meeting of world leaders at COP26.

Just as legions of young people have been inspired by the magnificent Greta Thunberg to take action against climate change, so was I. Here was a young person who in 2018, aged just 15, started her now famous protest outside the Swedish parliament. Alone, she held a sign saying “School Strike for Climate” in an effort to pressurise her government to meet carbon emissions targets.

I’m sure many people on their way to work must have passed her lonely protest and dismissed it with the “cynicism of experience”. Yet by the end of that year more than 20,000 students from as far afield as the UK to Japan had joined her by skipping school to protest. And her influence has continued to grow – and some argue, may have been greater still, if momentum has not been interrupted by the pandemic. We will never know.

Of course, as the CEO of an education charity, I’m not saying young people should skip school – but I am highlighting just how much difference one person can make when the rest of us may feel powerless.

Greta is also a wonderful role model for neuro diversity, describing the fact that she has Asperger syndrome as a gift. For her, being different is a “superpower” and she has used this to good effect. 

There are many parallels between the work of Future First and climate activism. The charity is all about social justice, as we recognise that Britain has a deep social mobility problem and we are working to change that. Far too many young people do not have access to the relatable role models they need to help them understand what they can become, nor the networks, knowledge and tools to help them to get there.

The cause of climate justice is the same. While the developed world prospers, other countries are sinking into the sea or going up in flames. It is social justice on a global scale – and I believe we have a moral duty to act, both here in the UK and for our neighbours in the global South.

It was my belief that climate justice is social justice, and the inspiration of Greta, as a young role model, that led me to undertake the “Camino to COP26” walk to Glasgow. Organised by XRUK Faith Bridge, the walk brought together people of all faiths and none on a pilgrimage to COP, starting from Bristol, Liverpool, the South East and London.

The purpose was to build alliances and engage communities along the route and to spread the word about the urgent need to act against climate change. It was an opportunity for peaceful connection and outreach which expressly spurned any physical disruption or civil disobedience.

The whole experience has undoubtedly helped me grow as a person. I met people I would never otherwise have met – community and faith leaders, young and old – and glimpsed into their lives, from hamlets and rural communities to the cities of London, Birmingham, and Manchester. 

I was lucky enough to see Greta speak when we arrived in Glasgow. She was holding a press conference in the woods surrounded by hundreds of people – many, of course, from the media. There she was, standing on a suitcase and speaking through a bullhorn, continuing to captivate and inspire a world that has taken her to its heart. If anyone needs proof of the impact a role model can have: Greta certainly provides it.

At a time when the challenges we face feel ever more daunting and it is easy to feel we can’t bring about the change needed – both for ourselves and the world around us – we need as many Gretas as possible to show us positive change is always within our grasp.

 

 

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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.