Hebba recently found the certificate from the first session she took part in with IntoUniversity North Kensington in 2011: a Business in FOCUS workshop with her school, Burlington Danes Academy. After the session, the centre team approached her to ask if she’d be interested in joining the Mentoring programme. She was paired with Suzannah, a Geography student from the London School of Economics.
“I think our first [mentoring meeting] was probably really awkward. I think at the time both of us were like, ‘oh, what do we do now?’ But then we got close really quickly. Suzannah was really good at Maths and Science and I was awful at those. But she said she was awful at Art and History. So I remember we had a mutual agreement that if I let her help me with Maths for a whole mentoring session, she would let me do an Art lesson for her. Which was very clever because I hated Maths. I remember we baked once, and it probably didn’t go very well, but we tried. I tasted a few when I was a Mentoring Coordinator myself [laughs]. We met really regularly and as soon as mentoring finished, we planned a meet up a few months later when I was 18.”
By coming to the centre to receive this one-to-one support, Hebba formed close bonds with students and staff members.
“I really loved [the centre]. It’s definitely very nostalgic for me to go back. Though it’s really awkward because they still have a horrible photo of me on the display when you walk in; five years later, it’s still there. I really loved [the staff]. It was like a home away from home, I suppose. It is just a very safe environment and you can be yourself. And I’d still say that now as an adult.
“I think probably what I learned [coming to the centre] is that it was OK to not be great at everything school-wise and it didn’t mean that I wasn’t great at what I was great at. I think it definitely helped me to gain a lot of confidence in myself. Because I think I was very reserved. I was quite introverted and there was just always a helping hand, always someone that I could talk to. I think that’s probably what made me want to volunteer when I was 18.”
Hebba was also one of the first students to take part in our Big City Bright Future programme, an annual three-week paid work experience programme created especially to help school leavers who aspire to work within competitive industries.
“Big City Bright Future (BCBF) was probably the best thing I’ve ever gotten to do. Probably because I was one of the people at the time that was like, ‘I’m not going to apply, I’m not going to get it’. I think Esther [IntoUniversity staff member] was like just give it a go. I also had a Corporate Mentor at the time, her name was Laura and she was working at Burberry HQ, and they [said] ‘who says you have to go and do finance, we just think it would be good for you to have a go and have the opportunity’.
“I got through every stage, which I genuinely did not believe was going to happen. I don’t think I was very confident at the time and I still didn’t really know if I wanted to go to university at the time either. I honestly loved [BCBF] so much. I’m still friends with half of [my cohort] now.”
After Hebba graduated, she was still supporting IntoUniversity through BCBF alumni events, it was then she decided to apply for our Education Worker Graduate Scheme.
“I was working at a women’s charity at the time and I was an adult support worker. I was working with women who often had children and teenagers at home. Seeing so many cycles of trauma that had been repeated in their households, and seeing how their kids were being affected, and thinking that their kids are going to go through the same things as them. It just reminded me, I really want to work with young people because I want to be part of breaking the cycle and I want to help a young person not go through the same things as their family members.
“And then, I bumped into Leo [a former IntoUniversity staff member]. And he gave me a nudge and told me the Graduate Scheme was opening up again. I told him I wasn’t interested, I had just got a promotion, and then, I got an email [about it] and was like ‘I’m going to do it’. I was so happy and I learned so much at IntoUniversity so I’m still the biggest cheerleader.”
Hebba recently left IntoUniversity to work for the PAPYRUS Charity but she still feels connected to the charity.
“I’m working at a suicide prevention charity for young people now and I think when I was leaving IntoUniversity, I didn’t want to leave and then go to something that I wasn’t really passionate about. I now deliver training to charities and organisations on how to help young people with their mental health. I definitely use a lot of things from working with students at IntoUniversity and from the training programme every day.
“I think my younger self would be very proud because I have come a long way. I was very shy, I was very quiet and then I started to really come out of my shell. I think I just started to love myself and IntoUniversity was the main factor in that. I was always appreciated and encouraged; I had never had a bad word said to me, I always knew the team was so proud of me.”