Knowsley Chamber of Commerce chief executive Lesley Martin-Wright says we all have a responsibility to help and inspire young people to prosper in an increasingly complex world
We have just marked the fourth anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing and, here in Knowsley in particular, we remember one of those who died – Megan Hurley, who was 15 and a pupil at Halewood Academy.
Here at Knowsley Chamber we work closely with the school and Megan’s passing highlighted the amazing values that underpins its caring ethos. Following the tragedy the school wrapped themselves around the family, and her fellow pupils, who were deeply affected by the tragedy.
According to her family, Megan possessed a “lust for life”. That is no surprise because that is the all-pervading energy at Halewood Academy whose stated core values are; collaboration, excellence, resilience, aspiration and respect.
It is so important to take those values out of the abstract and make them real. And there is no better example of that than in the work done as part of the Future Female Leaders Programme which came into being at Halewood Academy around four years ago.
Each September a group of girls from years 9 and 10 will join the programme and they are given access to external mentors. The mentors are successful women from many areas of life and business. The wonderful thing about the programme is that those girls themselves become mentors to their fellow pupils. That is so powerful.
The external mentors act as guiding light for the girls who, in their normal everyday lives, may not get to meet women in successful careers. The chamber is very supportive of the programme. I am one of the mentors and the acting head, Josie Gallagher, has stated aim is to help the girls find out about different career options and encourage them to be aspirational.
When the mentors speak the girls get a real sense of the journey they have taken and how they have gotten to be where they are. Life is rarely linear. The mentors may have different things before they ended up in their current positions. They may have taken different turns in life, and made mistakes.
It is so important that young people learn that. That they can make mistakes, take wrong turns, go down career cul-de-sacs. Careers can take many meandering paths and what is crucial is what you learn along the way. Those kinds of insights from mentors are extremely valuable.
When I was a teenager it certainly wasn’t my ambition to be the chief executive of a chamber of commerce. It was a journey that brought me to where I am now and, along the way, I sought out mentors and role models. I asked questions, I watched people – and I made mistakes.
Because of the internet and social media, we think of young people being so connected and in touch with the world these days. However, that is partly an illusion. Getting real-life access to mentors and role models is so difficult and that is why this programme is so fantastic.
If you don’t have access to real-life examples of people who achieved goals in life, how can you know how they got there, what challenges they faced along the way? So often people end up in the careers they are in by a chance happening or circumstance rather than by design. What the programme really gets across well is the value of keeping your options open.
It is incredible to see the change in the girls over the course of the programme. How they can start off so shy and then gradually come out of their shells. They are encouraged to talk about their wins and losses and what they have learned.
Over the past year the programme has been particularly challenging because of the difficulty in arranging face-to-face contact. We are hoping to arrange an event for the girls on this year’s programme in July.
This programme has been such a success and I know Halewood Academy is thinking of starting something similar for the boys. In future years it is hoped there will be alumni events where girls who have been on the programme return to offer their stories.
We are also putting out a call to action to women across the Liverpool city region who feel they can offer their input as mentors in time for the next cohort in September. I can say from personal experience how incredibly rewarding it is. I think we all have a duty and a responsibility to support the next generation and help break down their own barriers.