The women encouraging girls to aim higher

Former Park Community School student Amy Olford, 17, with her mentor Jackie Rainford, 57

Picture: Sarah Standing (161616-7695)
Former Park Community School student Amy Olford, 17, with her mentor Jackie Rainford, 57 Picture: Sarah Standing (161616-7695)

LETTER OF THE DAY: Hope I don’t end up in an ‘uncaring’ care home

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The Girls’ Network is a charity trying to change the lives of teenage girls across the area by pairing them with professional women to help them achieve their potential.

At a time when women seemingly have more opportunities than ever before, it’s startling that, nationally, only six per cent of girls from the poorest backgrounds go on to university.

Girls Network founder Becca Dean

Girls Network founder Becca Dean

That was one of the figures which inspired Becca Dean and Charly Young to set up The Girls’ Network.

Becca, originally from Portsmouth, was working as a teacher in London when the full reality of the limited opportunities open to young girls appeared to her.

Together with Charly she started pairing girls aged 14 to 19 from the least advantaged areas with professional female mentors to open up their potential – and The Girls’ Network was born.

Over the course of the year the mentors – who are working with schools across the area – build up their girls’ confidence, networks and career opportunities which they would not otherwise have had access to – through just a couple of hours contact a month.

Becca said: ‘After university I trained as a teacher through the charity Teach First, teaching in one of the most deprived schools in London. It was there I saw first-hand the double disadvantage faced by girls in my classroom.

‘The disadvantages are born of the expectations placed on them as girls, and the fact that many are from families with three generations of unemployment.

‘I will never forget the girl that, while on a trip to a central London law firm (an attempt to explore the many opportunities available to them) asked me, “Miss, why is that woman wearing a suit?”.

‘She couldn’t even conceive of a woman working in that environment.

‘It was then I realised the impact of professional female role models that many of us take for granted.

‘After setting up the Girls’ Network in London, my thoughts turned back home, to Portsmouth.

‘The more I saw girls flourish on the program, the more I thought about how many of my contemporaries would have benefited from the experience.

‘We now work with 150 girls across 10 schools in Portsmouth and Havant and are aiming to raise that number to 250 in the next year.

‘Each girl receives a mentor, work experience, workshops, networking events, and a lifelong membership to our ambassador network.

‘We have a saying at The Girls’ Network, “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

‘It’s my hope that by exposing girls to the many brilliant and talented women in Portsmouth and Havant, we can remove the limits on their futures.’

To find out more about the organisation, to mentor or apply for your school to take part, go to thegirlsnetwork.org.uk.

JACKIE THE MENTOR’S STORY

I was inspired by Becca Dean’s enthusiasm and commitment and wanted to help a girl achieve her potential in her final year of school.

I first met Amy at the matching event at Park Community School, Leigh Park.

I could see that she was shy, but she obviously had potential and just needed to believe in herself.

Our subsequent monthly sessions gave us plenty of time to get to know each other.

It was good to hear Amy talk about her hopes and aspirations for the future, as well as her worries and concerns.

She wanted to be a midwife, but didn’t know what she needed to do to achieve that ambition.

We had lively two-way conversations, with activities to help Amy practise her communication skills, especially developing her assertiveness.

By the end of the year I felt that I knew Amy well. She had worked hard revising for her GCSEs and had attended more than 20 revision sessions at school.

We also kept in regular contact during her exams.

I spoke to Amy on the day she received her GCSE results. She had done exceptionally well and I must admit I had one or two tears of pride!

On her first day at South Downs she sent me the following text message: ‘This is the first day of my new life!’

There is nothing quite as rewarding as seeing a shy young girl blossom into a confident young woman.

AMY THE STUDENT’S STORY

When I started the year of being mentored by Jackie I was nervous and shy and lacked confidence.

My ambition is to become a midwife, but at the beginning of the year I didn’t quite know how I would get there.

Jackie believed in me and listened to my ideas for the future. Over the months she motivated me to attend revision sessions for my GCSEs and plan my routines for revising at home.

I attended so many revision sessions that the school gave me my school leavers’ prom ticket free.

I was keen to get a part-time job and Jackie helped me to write my CV, practise interview questions and develop my communication skills. My skills and confidence improved so much that I got the first part-time job I applied for.

At one stage I felt a little behind in maths, so Jackie helped me to find a home tutor, so I could do extra revision, and encouraged me to believe in myself.

At the start of year 11 my mocks and predicted grades were Cs and Ds, but in August I achieved two As, two Bs and three Cs. I was delighted and really proud of myself.

I’m doing a BTEC Level 3 extended in health and social care at South Downs College and I know that I will become a midwife.

I also know that I need to work hard to achieve my goal.

Jackie and I are still in touch and she occasionally gives me hints and tips, either by text or by sending me postcards.

It’s also good to know that I can continue to ask her for information or advice in the future.