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Working where we're needed most: launching in the East Midlands by Andrew Berwick (Director)

I was born in Camden. My earliest memories are of living on a low rise estate near Elephant and Castle. When I graduated from university I felt an instinctive desire to go into teaching in a tough part of London - and was able to do so through the Teach First programme. Since then I am proud to have led The Access Project to grow from 2 schools to 23 London schools as of this September.

I feel very much a Londoner. But I'm starting to change. Let me explain.

There is poverty in London: 6 London Boroughs are in the 'top' 10 Local Authorities in the UK in terms of child poverty. There is also opportunity in London: all of the top 10 'social mobility hotspots' defined by the Social Mobility Commission are in London.

There are other parts of the country where there is poverty - and nothing like these opportunities. This is where charities like The Access Project need to be working: this is why we launched in the West Midlands 3 years ago, and this is why we will be working with 120 young people in 3 schools in Mansfield from September this year.

The area around Mansfield is a former coal mining region; most of the pits closed in the 1990s, and the last pit closed in 2015. Unsurprisingly it has been a struggle for the local economy to recover - a recent report by the Local Enterprise Partnership described North Nottinghamshire candidly as an area “with industrial legacies which offer opportunities linked to brownfield land [and] lower wage rates.”

Even for young people living in challenging circumstances in London there is the promise of opportunity on their doorstep; those opportunities can feel sadly remote for young people in the East Midlands, and for Mansfield in particular. If you consider university study as a proxy for progression to higher-skilled careers, the contrast is eye-watering: 43% of young people in London progress to university; in the areas we are focusing on in the East Midlands, this proportion ranges from 5%-24%.

I feel passionately that we all have a responsibility to address this inequality of opportunity, and I am proud we are launching in the region in partnership with 3 local universities: Nottingham Trent University, the University of Derby, and the University of Nottingham. Our mission and programme will remain the same: helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to reach selective universities. We need to overcome 3 significant barriers to make this happen:

- Finding volunteers: we need to recruit 80 volunteers in Mansfield and Nottingham in the next 3 months. We are building partnerships with local employers and business organisations to raise awareness of our programme and reach as many potential graduate volunteers as possible.
- Going online: unfortunately Mansfield has relatively weak transport infrastructure - most students will not be able to travel to tutorials independently. To make our programme work, we are experimenting with delivering tuition online: next year, 80 volunteers in the East Midlands and London will deliver tutorials via our new online tuition platform. We will evaluate this later in the year to understand how it works for our students and volunteers.
- A national programme delivered locally: we know our programme can deliver transformative impact for our young people - and we are committed to delivering the same quality of experience in the East Midlands as in London and the West Midlands. Making this happen brings challenges, e.g. we need to build new partnerships to deliver our specialist Law provision and Oxbridge application support. And we need to recognise that we are not working in a vacuum: young people's decisions about their future need to be informed by understanding how the East Midlands economy will evolve in the next 20 years, for instance with the development of HS2 in the region.

If you have contacts or client companies in the East Midlands who you think would be interested in the opportunity to volunteer with The Access Project then please contact our East Midlands Volunteer Coordinator, Katie (katie@theaccessproject.org.uk), to discuss this. Your support in building our network in the region could be crucial.

I believe we all have a role to play in opening up opportunities for young people across the country - and as a proud Londoner, I am excited that we are now focusing even more of our work beyond the M25. Our aim for the year ahead is that we can make a real difference with the young people we work with in the East Midlands, and build the foundations for growth in 2019 and beyond.