What happens when you take young mums to uni?

The young mums, all sat trying to keep small children in their seats on the coach, all have aspirations and dreams as fidgety as their children. They know that they want to give their kids the best start but there’s also a sense that they are held back, by their life, by society.

Challenging the idea there’s only one way to do it

They were all taking advantage of an opportunity to go on the Chrysalis Summer Programme as part of the Widening Participation initiative at Brunel University. It’s designed to encourage groups who don’t normally consider University as an option such as care leavers, young black men and young parents. It’s to give them a taste of Uni life and a glimpse into how other people have got there. Challenging the idea there’s only one way to do it.

On the way there we chatted about the day and why they had wanted to come. Some wanted to go to University or had businesses ideas. Others came purely because our team had encouraged them to come and just try it out.

Young mums looking for careers that make a difference

A theme running through these chats was finding jobs and careers that made a difference, giving something back and to help others. One wanted to be a probation officer working with offenders, two others wanted to be social workers, another a psychologist and some wanted to work with animals. The fact most of them had made these choices after becoming mums showed what impact their own lives and having children had made on their choices and aspirations.

“I’m excited about everything really. Just gaining more knowledge and seeing what it’s like to be inside a classroom. So I know that when I am ready, I know what to expect,” Frankie who is 21 told me.

She was there with her two year old daughter. She wants to train to be a paramedic inspired after watching them trying to save her mum’s life.

They were also interested in how study could fit around their children.

Growing in confidence and smiles-their worries melting away

As the day unfolded, led by Karen Western and her team of Student ambassadors from the Widening Participation team, it was uplifting to see the young women grow in confidence and in smiles-their daily worries melting away. There was a huge difference in the way they talked and carried themselves in the morning, compared to the end of the day, when they were just buzzing.

Open to new ideas and a different way of doing things

Laura who had come to the earlier visit to Brunel (activities are spread over two different days) said,

“I came last year and it changed what I wanted to do. I had wanted do something around health and social care. But I’ve completely changed that now to the beauty side of things.”

She felt like she didn’t really understand the possibilities till she visited here. She felt like her only real option was in the health and social care field.

“You don’t really know what’s outside of school, you just do what you are used to.”

Doing some of the creative activities at her last visit made her realise that’s what she wanted to focus on. It made her realise that’s what she is good at and something she can potentially make a lot of money doing.  

A need for more activities like this

Lorraine who is one of our Young Parents Practitioners said,

“We need more enrichment activities like this to inspire these girls. These kinds of sessions make a huge difference to what they all think is possible with their lives. Hearing how other people did it and seeing how they are doing it, is better than anything that you can read about. It makes it real.” 

Although everyone seemed happy to be coming there was a little air of unease, just underneath the surface. Some were leaving their children, in a specially put on crèche, for the first time. The youngest child there was three months old.  

After over six hours of activities the energy shift was palpable.

It had grown through the day. We moved seamlessly from a game about life choices onto inspiring motivation speeches (from Action Jackson) about ideas of forgiveness and untapped potential, then onto lunch.

Really honest about uni life and the choices they had made

Followed later by a workshop in the new STEM centre (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) a tour round the campus and then onto a self-defence class in the Gym.

They all joked and laughed with the really down to earth and friendly student ambassadors, who were really honest about Uni life and the choices they had made.

Karen who heads up the Widening Participation team told me that she loves her job. The government driven initiative is not specifically about getting groups like ours into Brunel University, its remit is much wider than that. It’s about inspiring these young women, and others like them, to think of University as an option, that it can be for them.

Young women with potential

Ayoola, who is responsible for coordinating the event from the St Michael’s end, told the girls on the coach,

“This is an incredible opportunity, we are very lucky to be here. I want you to make the most of this day, get the most out of it you can and be open to new experiences.”

She asked them to do this in memory of Dr Beverly Crooks who had set up the programme and who had sadly died last year.

And they did. As the day went on they slowly forgot about all their issues and problems, about being a mum and they were just themselves – young women with potential.

“I feel good, I feel much more confident in myself..”

Back on the bus each of them tells me about the best bits for them.

Kate, who is 20 and has two sons, one who is the three month old baby, said,

“I feel good I feel much more confident in myself, in the educational way, you know what I mean. I feel like I can definitely achieve what I want to.” She wants to work with either rescue animals or become a dog trainer.

“It made me feel really good. It made me feel like there is a way that I don’t need to prolong things. If I just find the right access course. Then I can just go for it and get the ball rolling,” said Louise who wants to be a paramedic.

Importance of forgiveness

It was interesting that two of the topics which popped up related to forgiveness and self-defence. All the young women seemed to accept they had a lot of forgiving to do, whether they could do it is another matter. But they also seem well versed in keeping their defences up. At least emotionally.

Frankie explained why she really enjoyed the motivational speaker.

“It was the simple words he used, like that quote “I’m sorry, I forgive you, I love you and thank you.”  He made the girls repeat this over and over, it was quite emotional.

“It made me realise I need to work on my forgiveness in order to make a step forward because I ain’t getting nowhere till I forgive myself.”

Getting the ball rolling

This week Frankie signed herself up for a science access course starting in September and we are helping her figure out her childcare. She waited less than a week to get the ball rolling.

To find out more about the work St Michael’s does with young parents in Lambeth or to refer someone to our outreach team visit our website. To find out more about Brunel’s Widening Participation team and their Chrysalis programme Karen.western@brunel.ac.uk  

*the names of the young parents have been changed.