Downing College and Villiers Park launch programme that provides ‘extraordinary opportunities’ for young people

A partnership between Downing College and Cambridge-based social mobility charity Villiers Park to raise aspiration and develop vital skills in young people was launched on Friday (12 October) at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth.

The Inspire2INVOLVE programme has grown out of the Area Link Scheme, which pairs Cambridge University colleges with local authority regions. Downing College has worked closely with schools in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset since 2000, to enable bright students from under-represented backgrounds to fulfil their academic potential.

Plymouth’s Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Chris Mavin, praised the programme for its “extraordinary opportunities” for young people at a packed launch, along with staff and students from ten schools in Plymouth, as well as Devonport MP Luke Pollard.

Forty-five Year 12 students from the city will start the programme, which develops key academic and personal skills through activities including a residential course in Cambridge and the creation and running of enrichment activities in their schools, which boosts organisation, problem-solving and communication skills. At Friday’s event, the students, their teachers and their parents learnt about the five day residential courses they could attend, started to generate ideas for their enrichment projects and had the opportunity to ask questions.

“This partnership provides extraordinary opportunities for young people to learn key life skills,” said Cllr Mavin. “I was delighted to attend the event, the presentation was infectious to say the least and the young people were enthusiastic and keen to be a part of the programme. It will make a huge difference to young people in the area and I’d encourage every school in the city to take part in it.”

The afternoon included talks from previous participants and Marine Academy students Aggie Zmudzinska, 17, and Kyle Leppard, also 17, both from Plymouth. The pair gave presentations to both students and parents, explaining the value of the programme and how it’d boosted their confidence and numerous other skills.  The pair also spent time talking with students and answering their questions.

“It is honestly a once in a life time opportunity for the pupils,” said Aggie, who, as part of her involvement, has run a ‘Quirky Science’ club for Year 6 students and attended a neuroscience course at the charity’s centre near Cambridge. “It'll help them massively as it's something they can put down on their university application or talk about in an interview. You gain so much experience from it, it can be applied anywhere. Honestly this is the best thing I’ve done.”

Inspire2INVOLVE – which was piloted in Plymouth last year – aims to tackle inequality experienced by high-ability young people from less advantaged backgrounds, who, despite having the potential to succeed in academia, will underperform against individuals who have equal ability but are from more privileged backgrounds. Typically, this group will under-achieve in their GCSEs and A-Levels, which impacts on future opportunities or access to universities or apprenticeships. The programme is fully funded and there is no cost to either schools or students.

Students from the South-West are some of the least likely in the country to apply to university – around 23% of 18-year-olds from Plymouth Moor View applied for university this year compared to 37.4% in England.

Dr Kamran Yunus, Downing College Fellow and Inspire2INVOLVE lead said, “Seeing so many schools at the launch event engaged and committed was very reassuring.  The level of enthusiasm from the students and their eagerness to sign up and participate in the programme was evidence of the impact this initiative will have.  We would like to thank all the parents, teachers and local community leaders for their support and look forward to working with them closely.”

“We’re so pleased with the outcome of the Inspire2INVOLVE launch event,” said Matt Diston, Assistant Programme Director at Villiers Park. “We think it’s frankly unfair and a tragedy that your postcode or the circumstances you were born into still place a huge role in the opportunities available to you, so I am delighted at the response we received. The students on Friday were fantastic, well supported by teachers from participating schools and we are looking forward to an inspiring year working with them all.”


Villiers Park and Downing College staff with Cllr Chris Mavin and Luke Pollard MP at the launch event at the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth.
Left to right: Matt Diston, Assistant Programme Director at Villiers Park, Jess Lister, School and College Liaison Officer at Downing College, Luke Pollard MP, Cllr Chris Mavin, Kyle Leppard, Aggie Zmudzinska, both Year 13 Marine Academy Students and Dr Kamran Yunus, Downing College Fellow.

Published 15 October 2018.