The power of mentoring – My journey with The Girls’ Network
In January 2019 I signed up to become a mentor with The Girl’s Network, a one-to-one mentoring scheme for young girls from the least advantaged communities. The programme aims to inspire and empower girls by connecting them to a mentor and to a network of professional female role models in their local area.
I thought it would be a great way to challenge myself to do something different and worthwhile… now that I’m at the end of my first year of mentoring my first mentee it’s a great time to reflect on the challenges and successes mentoring has provided. The programme requires an hour of scheduled time per month with the mentee plus any preparation time from myself.
The first challenge that instantly springs to mind is the memory of being at the “matching event” with The Girls’ Network. I was nervous. This event aims to pair you with a young girl who you are most likely to be able to help with their career aspirations, whilst also being matched on how you interact with one another, and my own lengthy application process. Imagine a speed dating event style set up and being quizzed by twenty 14-year-olds…
By the end of event I was coupled with Lucy who aspires to be an architect. She wanted guidance on CV writing, contacts in the industry and wanted to improve her confidence.
Lucy was very quiet, shy and I could tell instantly that she lacked in confidence. I left the matching event with a huge headache and with so many questions: Why had I been matched with Lucy? How could I help her? But most of all I had an overwhelming feeling of how much she reminded me of myself when I was her age!
Then in March, Covid-19 hit and everything went to virtual mentoring. It was a massive shame – challenge number two! This meant that all the physical RIBA exhibitions I had planned to take Lucy to, alongside arranging office visits couldn’t happen. I had to really think outside the box to continue the mentoring sessions. Building a relationship with Lucy in person was now limited to online, which added an additional challenge. Lucy’s commitment to the programme was amazing throughout and each month she would turn up to the session with enthusiasm and visibly growing confidence.
Just before the summer holidays, I encouraged Lucy to apply to the PlacED Academy. PlacED Academy is a social enterprise programme aimed at 14–18-year-olds who are interested and inspired to begin a career in design (whether that be architecture, interior design, construction design) through hands-on engagement, discussion and education. It is also supported and partnered by FCH, Arup, FWP, Morgan Sindall, amongst others.
Lucy worked hard on her application and, despite me offering my help, she completed it alone. Out of hundreds of applications she was successful in getting on the programme, which ran for 10 weeks from July – September.
For the first five weeks of the programme, Lucy worked on an individual project in which she had to design and create a community hub in a chosen area of Liverpool. She then had to present her ideas to groups of people and listen to presentations of others.
During the last five weeks, Lucy worked in a group of five to learn about the Liverpool Waters regeneration project. She had to design residential regeneration and scheme included terraced housing, apartments, a café, communal space and a green space. The last session involved a virtual presentation of the designs to 40 people – which for a 15-year-old would be daunting, but I was so proud of her!
At the end of our mentoring journey together, Lucy was a completely different person. She was confident, held herself differently and fed back that without my encouragement, she would never have pushed herself outside of her comfort zone to attend the PlacED Academy – something that she was grateful of.
We evaluated the skills she has taken from the mentoring journey – CV writing, portfolio writing, compiling and approaching contacts (some of which she networked with at the PlacED Academy), communication, revision and organisation – to a name a few. But the biggest success was seeing Lucy grow into a much more confident young lady.
Much like the Curtins’ Reverse Mentoring programme, I often found myself learning from Lucy. Her willingness to learn and desire to succeed in life was contagious and I came away from every session beaming from ear to ear. It’s this that has encouraged me to sign up to another year of mentoring with The Girls’ Network, even though 2020 was difficult to remain positive and motivated for obvious reasons. I look forward to seeing what another year of mentoring will bring.
(Lucy is a pseudonym)