To kick off Schools Alumni Week, we were joined by experts from The Sutton Trust, Creative Education Trust and St Bonaventure’s School to get their top tips and advice on building alumni communities.

From impact to engagement, three experts from organisations that utilise alumni communities in different ways took part in an online discussion where they discussed their own tactics and outcomes for building, managing and optimising alumni networks. 

Utilising alumni in ways such as recruiting them to take part in judging panels and forums was discussed, as well as the idea of offering merchandise or promotional material relevant to the school or local community. Andy from St Bonaventure’s spoke how they even use their alumni community as a talent pool for teacher recruitment. 

Educators and organisations were invited to ask questions to the panel, some of which are cited below. 

The speakers

Andy Lewis is Deputy Headteacher at St Bonaventure’s School in East London. An established speaker and author, he has written a number of textbooks for both Key Stage 3 and GCSE. He has recently spoken at the ATCRE national conference, for the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and ResearchEd Oxford.

Marie-Rose Delauzun is Head of Alumni Engagement at. Sutton Trust, where she leads a small team to deliver a programme of events, career support and volunteering for a community of 50,000 alumni from disadvantaged backgrounds. Throughout her career she has worked in a range of roles across Higher Education, in particular across Digital Communications and Fundraising, and Alumni Relations.

Kate Ward is Head of Programmes at Creative Education Trust, where she heads up a team which devises, plans and runs an ambitious calendar of cross-trust academic, artistic and horizon-broadening co-curricular activities and events to help pupils discover what they enjoy and what they’re good at. The Programmes Team also provides Trust-level support on careers and employability and convenes Creative Education Trust’s Alumni Network, who are increasingly involved in cross-Trust student-facing activities.

Naomi Barker is Programme Director at Future First, where she leads a team of expert facilitators. 

"A huge focus for us is that aspirational aspect, alumni are relatable characters that our students and participants can see. It just makes it look so much more achievable, and we just want them to be visible, whether it's through appearing on panels, boards or writing blogs. The alumni voice is always the most powerful."

Questions not covered in the webinar: 

Kate: This is back to the ‘slowly slowly’ advice given during the panel – this isn’t going to happen overnight. But make sure you’re communicating the activities to your wider networks so that other alumni (or potential volunteers) can see what you are doing. Remember to talk about what the alum/volunteer is getting back from giving their time – use their voice if possible! And don’t be afraid to ask them if they have any recommendations of other ex-students who might like to also support your activity, or if they can share opportunities for others to get involved. Staff are a great resource for this too as they may be in touch with former pupils that you’re not currently hearing from. We definitely have ex-students participating in activities because they also get to see old or current friends!

Marie-Rose: This is indeed common for us too – I think it’s important to make sure you are trying to give a range of people the opportunity to be involved and we don’t formally have rules about this but for anything where we have multiple volunteer options, we’ll prioritise asking those who’ve not done it yet first and make a point of mentioning that we’re spreading out the opportunity and keen to give our students the chance to hear from a range of voices. We also do fairly regular drives in our wider comms to get people to sign-up to our volunteer form /or refresh their info about what they’d like to be involved in. That said – I also think quality is as important as quantity sometimes – we try not to be too concerned if there is a small pool of people who end up being our ‘reliable regular’ volunteers – it just shows a really high level of engagement and we try to steward them as really important stakeholders who are important for being our promoters and advocates.

We have interviewed five ex-students from across our Trust schools, and will publish a blog on our website each day of #SchoolsAlumniWeek, pushing these out on social media daily. Some of our schools are also engaging with the week, and will be increasing social media coverage of their alumni activity over the week and, of course, using it to encourage other alumni to sign up to their Future First Hubs.


Kate: For our cross-Trust alumni engagement activities where alumni are acting as role models in schools, we ensure we’re asking feedback of both our current pupils and our alumni.

I’ve included examples of both from a recent employability skills day:

Reflection questions for pupils: One thing I’ve learnt, best advice I’ve received, one thing I’d like to find out more about after today.
Reflection questions for alumni: What did you like about the day?, Were there any challenges/things we could have done differently?, What opportunities would you like to see in the future for former pupils and alumni?

Marie-Rose: Not sure what kind of survey they mean – I think I mentioned we survey after events always – this ranges from us just collecting feedback on the format / content so we can continue to adjust/improve for future, through to rating scale 1-9 ‘I found it useful to hear from a Sutton Trust alum’ etc. We also every couple of years have started doing a very general alumni survey – to find out what people are doing job-wise, where they are, and the kind of things they want from us – e.g community building events / meetups, or more career-focused events, or just newsletters and updates.

Naomi: The word ‘alumni’ can sometimes be a bit confusing, especially to young people who might never have heard the word. We often use ‘former students’. Other organisations often use ‘fellows’ or ‘ambassadors’. 

Marie-Rose: As per my answer in the chat – I know there are various other terms people use (e.g. Teach First’s successful use of Ambassadors) however I personally think it’s a battle worth fighting – if there isn’t another really obvious word for your group then doing the work to explain what it means to be an alum and how it’s a lifelong network/community, being part of something, I think can be worth it. I have also heard people use things like ‘champions’ – which works well for volunteer networks but feels less generally applicable to the wider group!

Marie-Rose: Number of events registered for / attended, whether they’ve completed our volunteer interest form, whether they’ve volunteered, how many hours that volunteer role took, whether they’re in our Linkedin group, whether they promote our news/stories online, how many students on our programmes have interacted with an alum at an event/webinar, survey feedback after events/activities – ‘how useful did you find it to hear from a Sutton trust alum’ etc.

Marie-Rose: When the Trust started doing alumni engagement about 6 years ago they initially launched the Alumni Leadership Board very much with the intention of it being a co-production model, however this quickly proved too difficult to manage and the time pressure on the members of the Board just meant it actually took a lot of staff time / chasing to try and support them to do the activities they were planning. The model then was shifted to more of an advisory capacity – they act as our ‘hosts’ at events / they do speaking engagements for us but ultimately all the planning and admin is done by staff. Longer-term we’re keen for more of our community activities – meet-ups / less formal events or networking opportunities to be run in a co-production way but I think it will take us time to get there.


DRD Partnership

DRD Partnership works with Future First to provide young people from state schools and colleges with work experience opportunities and employer-based experiences.


The Drapers

The Drapers charitable function aims to improve the quality of life and expectations of people and communities in Greater London who are disadvantaged and socially excluded.

Thanks to The Drapers support, four schools across Camden and Hackney are able to motivate, inspire and provide relatable role models for their students through building alumni networks. 

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The Vintners' Company

The Vintners’ Company charitable activity is set on breaking down the educational barriers facing young people from deprived backgrounds and helping to ensure that they get the best possible start in life.

Vintners is supporting schools in Newham to build alumni networks and provide access to relatable role models.


Pollen Street Capital

Pollen Street Capital is opening their doors to students in Year 10 and over from in and around London, to inspire and engage them about careers in the financial services industry. Offering support, networking and insight, this partnership with Future First will allow Pollen Street Capital to connect with up-and-coming talent.

Mayor of London

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 Mayor of London.

Working with young people from in and around Cardiff, Eversheds Sutherland is one of largest full service law firms in the world. With offices across the UK, USA, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia, the company is striving to open up the industry and opportunities to disadvantaged students from the Welsh capital. For the next two academic years, our partnership will deliver a series of Insight days designed to give students in Year 11 & 12 the opportunity to visit their offices, meet employees and gain a valuable understanding of the roles and routes into Law, developing transferable skills from communication to team work.

Lumon is a UK foreign exchange service provider and has a growing team of over 150 ‘Lumoneers’. The company partnered with Future First to open up the FX industry to more young people, particularly disadvantaged children who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to engage with these opportunities.

Since partnering with us, Lumon hosted multiple insight days where students were invited to their office to meet employees from different departments, take part in activities and experience different aspects of the industry.



AutoRaise promotes a range of technical apprenticeship paths to inspire young people around the vehicle repair industry. The organisation is working with Future First to present the sector to young people at schools and colleges as a rewarding and lucrative pathway, as well as highlighting apprenticeships as an alternative option to university or college. 



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.

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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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.



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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.

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.

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.



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.


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,, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Shawbrook Bank

Shawbrook and Future First work together to inspire and motivate young people in state schools and colleges all over the UK. From inviting students into their offices for informative and engaging Insight Days, to sharing personal stories from employees which students can relate to, mentoring, and more. The partnership also aims to widen the talent pool in the financial industry, and open up more opportunities for young people who previously hadn’t considered the pathway.

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.

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.