Girls Out Loud - a groundbreaking mentoring initiative for young women

PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 June 2014 | UPDATED: 20:45 29 June 2014

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Salford-born Jane Kenyon set up Girls Out Loud after seeing a rise the numbers of in young girls in need of guidance. We chat to the lady who has inspired many girls to dare to dream.

Courtney and EmmaCourtney and Emma

For Salford-born Jane Kenyon, life hasn’t always been an easy ride. Despite growing up in a wealthy family, she experienced a traumatic youth tainted by abuse and abandonment that saw her leave the family home aged 16. Jane channelled her anger into work, successfully climbing the corporate ladder, and after a career spent at the top of strategic marketing and business development, she set up her own business consultancy in 1992. Since then, Jane has remained passionate about entrepreneurship and over 20 years has bought, created and grown several businesses before divesting her interests into award-winning personal transformation work and coaching.

‘On some level throughout my corporate career, I was always naturally mentoring and coaching,’ said Jane, who now lives in Knutsford with her partner, Tony and her niece, who she adopted. ‘I had hit a glass ceiling in my career, and I couldn’t go any further so I was trapped. I couldn’t get any more qualified; I already had two degrees and a number of other certificates. I became ill with stress and took three months off work. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way, so I went on a journey of self discovery and had counselling so I could work out who I truly was. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I had that drive instilled into me and by 28 I had my own business and until my 30s I set up various marketing companies. Some made me very wealthy, others took me near to bankruptcy – and I realised I didn’t want to do this any more. I wanted to become a coach.’

In 2005, Jane spent 12 months on courses and programmes around the world, culminating in qualifications in coaching, NLP and behaviour therapy. She understood that her natural calling was in the world of personal development and in 2007 she set up Well Heeled Divas, an organisation helping women recognise what they need to do to shine. ‘Well Heeled Divas is all about helping women to improve, change or find the courage to break through that glass ceiling. Our weekend workshops, coaching and peer sessions are dedicated to female empowerment and this led on to me setting up Girls Out Loud.’

Girls Out Loud is a sister company. Many of the women Jane was coaching at her events throughout the country asked if she would coach their teenage daughters, and she began to feel uncomfortable with the amount of young girls she would see in the audience. ‘Over the past 10 years the teenage landscape has changed incredibly. To name a few, under age pregnancy, self-harming, eating disorders and gangs are becoming increasingly common, and I asked the women at my coaching events: ‘How are you showing them the way? Positive or negative, what is the message you are projecting?’ I then started to get invited to schools, and this was very frustrating as I would speak to girls for an hour, and get them in the palm of my hand and then have to walk away. I was just scratching the surface – I had pupils running after me in the car park wanting to talk to me more.’

Big and Little sistersBig and Little sisters

The turning point for Jane was at a conference in Blackpool in 2008. Out of 12 speakers, Jane was the only female on the panel. After telling her story, she was mobbed by women, girls and teachers in the room asking her to come and speak in their school. ‘My only condition was that by agreeing to come to the school, it would be an intervention programme rather than a one-off chat. And that’s when I started my first young girls coaching programme at a Blackpool high school.’

This took Jane’s work to a new level, as she had never mentored young girls before and these pupils came from extremely tough backgrounds. However, her perseverance paid off, and although she would sometimes go home in tears questioning what she had got herself into, by week seven the rapport with the girls changed and Jane recognised she had a real gift of connecting with girls – and she hasn’t looked back since. Girls Out Loud was officially launched in 2010 and is currently active in about25 schools across the north west.

Oasis Academy in Oldham has been working along side Girls Out Loud for two years. They participate in the Big Sister programme, where 20 pupils are specifically selected for one-to-one mentoring with their ‘big sister’ – volunteers recruited from various backgrounds with a desire to support a young girl aged 13 –18 for a minimum of 12 months. It has been hugely successful at the Academy. ‘Girls Out Loud came to me via my late best friend, who was an ex-big sister. It is an amazing programme, supporting young girls to be their best,’ said the Academy Principal, David Hayes.

‘It was a no brainer for us. Where we are based there isn’t a lot of aspiration. Surrounded by derelict mills and an abandoned environment, the more we can have women from different environments mentoring the girls, the better. It adds a whole new dimension to the school. We could easily have 400 girls on the programme, but we select the 20 girls we think will benefit from it most. Many pupils from the 2012/13 programme have become ‘middle sisters’ – helping others out. It is such a positive thing and Jane and Rachel bring a whole new enthusiasm to the academy.’

Rachel Ward Lilley is a fellow director of Girls Out Loud, and is viewed as the head big sister. ‘This programme is life changing for every single girl. For some enormous, but for others even a small change can make a big difference. A confident young girl can become a confident young woman.’ The girls that participate in the big sister programme are seen as stuck in the middle. ‘These girls are often invisible in classrooms. We work with them so they can shine, and with a little more attention from someone who is removed from their usual life they can go on to bigger things,’ added Jane. ‘I am lucky that due to my huge network and background, I am not short of amazing women who want to become big sisters. It is the funding that is always the issue.’

One of those women is financial advisor, Nicola Huxley, who has known Jane from previous business coaching programmes. ‘I used to have a cousin and their friend who would stay with me in the summer. I naturally mentored them, and once they stopped coming I missed that. Jane encouraged me to take part in the big sister programme to fill in the gap and it is brilliant.’

Nicola, from Disley, first took part in the pilot programme in Crewe back in 2010 and been a big sister ever since. ‘My first girl dropped out of the programme, and that was hard as I felt I had done something wrong. However, this is now the second year I have been with the same little sister at Oasis and we have formed such a great relationship. We get on so well and she has had such a tough time. Certain things I can relate to which helps me to guide her. I wished there was something like this at my school when I was growing up. Once the programme has finished, I will definitely be keeping in touch with her. I get a lot out of it, and I know the girls really benefit. I would recommend it 100%.’

For more information about the project, go online to girlsoutloud.org.uk

What the girls say

I spoke to three year nine pupils at Oasis Academy who are taking part in the current 2013/14 big sister programme shared their views on the project.

Marlie, 14, sees it as a great opportunity to speak to someone who isn’t a family member or friend about things. Tiana, 13, agrees: ‘I am glad I’ve got a big sister. She is someone really good to speak to when I need to chat or have a problem. I’ve also enjoyed the self-difference classes.’

Many of the little sisters from previous programmes have gone on to be middle sisters within the school, and this is something that interests Leilah, 13: ‘After this programme I feel I would be able to speak to younger pupils next year if they had problems, and be a role model to them.’

Boys need help too

Over 120 years ago, the Bolton Lads and Girls Club was one of the first organisations in the North West to recognise the importance of providing young people with a safe haven to spend their free time. In 2013, they were the biggest youth centre in the UK welcoming young people aged eight to 25 years old.

The club have also set up their own junior mentoring project. The project relies on people volunteering their spare time to help young people develop, grow and ultimately put them on a positive path to a bright future. BLGC are urging for more people to sign up to become a mentor to support them with their waiting list, currently at over 180 children.

Claire Stabler, mentoring and transitions manager said: ‘The impact a volunteer has providing a young person one to one support is enormous. Generally, mentors are the one consistent adult in a young person’s life, providing stability to their mentees often chaotic home life. The fact that our mentors are unpaid and donate their time freely ‘just because’ they want too is of massive significance to our young people. I’d urge anyone who is looking for a rewarding challenge to volunteer.’

Find out more about Bolton Lads and Girls Club at boltonladsandgirlsclub.co.uk.

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