A core aspect of the IntoUniversity model has always been its adaptability – the ability to take what works in one community and replicate it in neighbourhoods across the country has enabled the organisation to grow from a single centre to a bi-national charity with 41 centres and growing in the past 20 years. During this time, the organisation has honed and improved the way it approaches each new project, with a robust and considered feasibility and set-up process developed to ensure each centre meets the unique needs of the community it serves and has the support of schools, parents and other local stakeholders.
But even for a charity with such a successful history of adapting its model to new locations, the move into Scotland represented a significant shift. It meant building a reputation in a new country for the first time since the charity first established itself in England. It meant adapting our programme to compliment the Curriculum for Excellence and understanding the broader implications of a different education system on our approach. It meant having to build trust and acceptance in communities in which we had very little pre-existing local knowledge. And it meant forging new relationships and partnerships with local stakeholders who would be crucial to the project’s success. The organisation approached the expansion with its eyes open, and was ready for all of these challenges, but what no-one saw coming, understandably, was that it would have to do the majority of this work during a global pandemic which heavily restricted travel and face-to-face contact.
“IntoUniversity has helped me gain my confidence. Going on trips and meeting new people has helped me and they are now my friends. I have made lots of new friends at IntoUniversity. IntoUniversity has introduced me to new things. Doing maths and literacy at Academic Support at the same as school has made school much easier for me.” (IntoUniversity student)
This meant the first year of our centres opening saw academic support being delivered under COVID restrictions, with limited attendance and distancing within the classroom setting. Additionally, over the past two years our education workers have had to provide additional pastoral support to many students and navigate the aftermath of the pandemic.
When I joined in October 2022, the project was very much under way. I’ve been really impressed with how the centres have been able to establish themselves in their respective communities of Craigmillar, Govan and Maryhill, particularly given the challenges of virtual delivery in the first year.
What’s been most obvious to me has been the strength of the partnerships and community engagement, without which none of our work would be possible. Our collaboration with the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh across all three centres has been absolutely vital. To count on the support, both in terms of funding, volunteering and other types of engagement, of both universities has been nothing short of amazing. We now have volunteers from both institutions delivering one-to-one mentoring in our centres. We’ve also received transformative support from corporate partners in Scotland, again both for funding and for much-needed engagement opportunities and workshops.
“I would recommend volunteering at IntoUniversity without a doubt. I think it is a great opportunity to build relationships and inspire in certain ways. The team at the Craigmillar centre are really supportive and I have enjoyed working with them. I know I am supported and I know I am not alone in making or planning sessions.” (University Student Mentor, Craigmillar)
The centres themselves are thriving – just last year we worked with over 1000 young people at each of them. Relationships with local schools, parents and other local organisations have been key to this.
It has not all been unrivalled success. There have been many challenges along the way. Secondary recruitment got off to a slow start, not least because of COVID, which meant we initially worked with few secondary students, although primary attendance was a real positive during that period. We are continuously striving to ensure we are truly bi-national in our approach, and to make sure that the system in Scotland is considered fully in any of our programme development and other organisational decision-making.
So what’s next for our work in Scotland? We are of course keen to sustain the great work of our three existing centres, and look forward to growing our partnerships with local schools where we are situated. For example, this year we started new school partnerships in Glasgow and Edinburgh (Drumchapel and Portobello High Schools). We are also looking at ways to enhance community education in the areas we work, trialling a unique approach to parental engagement. This, alongside our plans to grow the mentor programme so more young people can benefit from this programme.
We’re excited about the years ahead and thankful to our partners, funders, every teacher, parent and community leader, our staff, and of course most importantly the incredible young people we have the privilege of working with in Craigmillar, Govan and Maryhill.