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Meryem was helped to suceed at school by a Groundwork Achievement Coach

Opportunity knocks - let’s open the door to meaningful mentoring

Posted on 13 January 2016

Looking back, it’s fair to say that I was never very good at being a child.

Not that I wasn’t well-behaved – oh no, I was a very good kid, at times probably too much so. I’m probably more of a pain to my parents now than I was during my pre-teen and beyond years. Well, I have to make up for it somehow!

Growing up in a huge family surrounded by adults meant that I found it unfair that I wasn’t one. I always hated anyone passing me off as ‘kid’ or insinuating that my thoughts, ideas or general outlook on life was wrong. I wanted to be out there, experiencing the world, learning new things and more importantly –taken seriously. Now I am an adult, it’s different of course. In my adult world as a kid, I never paid bills, or did the big shop on a Friday night or had to have actual responsibility. They did try and warn me…

I am the person I am today due to my upbringing – simple.

Stolen life choices

The other simple fact is that some young people do not have that luxury – the comfort of family life and a stable upbringing. I was never expected to look after my brother, cook the tea or fend for myself. I wasn’t in care being pushed from pillar to post. I was never worried or scared to go home.

There are some young people in society who live in disadvantaged, chaotic homes without the option of choice. Life choices, about school, their home life are marginalised because they are in an environment that isn’t physically or mentally healthy.  How can you concentrate on learning algebra or consider education is the pathway to a successful future when your mind is pre-occupied with a challenging, unsettled home life?

Opportunity knocks?

This is why I find the government’s latest scheme to encourage employers to be mentors for low-achieving young people to be a good thing – in principle. I get it – mentoring children, if done well, could of course be a good thing. David Cameron is proposing to invest in careers to the tune of £70m by 2020, with a considerable bulk going towards recruiting mentors for young teens. But sweeping statements and gestures like this are so black and white they should be called a zebra and shoved in a local zoo. I hope that the government ensures that the scheme isn’t all about facts, figures and ‘how to make millions’ as a successful life is not just built on education. For a young person to have a successful shot at life, they need skills that will help them function outside the office 9-5 world. After all, as an adult if your whole life is a whirlpool of chaos, you couldn’t function at work. Why would a young – in many cases vulnerable –person be any different?

The scheme needs to look at the young people as individuals and to provide a gateway to a successful future, as well as support, encouragement and a pat on the back, not just a pilot scheme that offers ‘work’ but neglects other guidance that will lead to all-round change. I for one don’t want young people to be offered a glimpse of what could be a bright future – and then have the light turned out.

Light at the end of the tunnel…

Young people need motivation and inspiration. They need to know they can reach for the skies, and their hopes and dreams have no end. Despite their personal circumstance they should wake up the morning with a purpose for the day, no matter how big or small, knowing that they are going to make a difference.  

Take Meryem, who was at risk of failing her GCSEs until she received one-to-one mentoring from a Groundwork Achievement Coach to remove the barriers preventing her from getting the grades she was capable of. Or Antony, a young man who, thanks to an apprenticeship with one of our Green Teams, overcame his difficult childhood and has increased his chances of finding long-term employment. Real life examples of how dedication to helping young people can change lives.

Providing young people with the skills, confidence and ability to find their voice and use it for a greater good ensures that they have a future and can interact and engage with society and their local community in a positive way. There is no cut-off point. Both pre and post NEET young people can overcome adversity, dream and achieve and grab the future they deserve –they just need a helping hand.

Working at Groundwork – I know first-hand the difference that successful mentoring can do for a young person and how putting someone on the right path in all aspects of life can lead to a future worth having.

So let’s hope David Cameron can get this right.  

Mereym's Story:

Antony's Story:

Post by Stacey Aplin, PR and Communications Officer

Groundwork UK