Blackburn girls get a helping hand from a 'Big Sister’

Lancashire Telegraph: Amy Koulouris with her mentor Gillian van Laarhoven Amy Koulouris with her mentor Gillian van Laarhoven

CAMPAIGN which introduces female role models to act as mentors for a ground-breaking scheme designed to raise teenage girls’ aspirations is under way at Blackburn Central High School.

Girls Out Loud, a social enterprise, has the backing of Strictly choreographer Arlene Phillips, PR guru Lynne Franks, Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon, Ann Summers’ Jacqueline Gold and female politicians.

The scheme is the brainchild of entrepreneur and speaker/coach Jane Kenyon, businesswoman Claire Young, who appeared in The Apprentice, and Rachel Ward Lilley, a teenage champion, communications professional and mountaineer.

This month 20 girls were selected from the school to be personally mentored by “big sisters” — high-profile women in top jobs specially trained to improve self-esteem and boost aspirations. Girls who have taken part in the scheme in other towns have all gone on to further education.

The scheme has received £5,000 in sponsorship from Blackburn wallpaper company Graham and Brown whose Group Finance Director, Gillian van Laarhoven, is an ambassador.

Gillian will be playing the role of Big Sister to Year 10 pupil Amy Koulouris, aged 15. Amy’s favourite subject at school is Media because: “It’s something different compared to everything else and very creative.”

Outside school she likes shopping and spending time with her family. Amy’s dream is to become a social worker or a solicitor. She wants a Big Sister to show her the way to achieve a successful career. The Lancashire Telegraph will be charting Gillian and Amy’s progress over the year.

Gillian says: “My role is to help build Amy’s self confidence and self-belief, to see things from a slightly different perspective than that offered by her family and school. I am to help motivate and challenge her and encourage her to use her initiative while supporting the message that being an individual is a good thing.”

Gillian left Skipton Girls’ High School after GCSEs and went straight into an office job. “I wanted my independence and to have a good time. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as we never got any good careers advice.

Consequently, I have achieved my professional qualifications by working and studying at the same time. I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way as it’s very hard work and today there are more options.”

She is currently studying for her Institute of Directors qualifications: “When I left school I got an office job , but I soon realised that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I got myself organised. I had never been particularly good at maths at school, but I took on various roles, one of which was doing the wages, and I realised that I liked the financial aspect of business and that I was actually quite good at figures which spurred me on to train as an accountant.”

Since then Gillian has had a wide and varied career, taking on a variety of roles within business, so she couldn’t be better equipped to give sound mentoring advice to Amy.

She is married and has two stepdaughters, aged 19 and 21.

“So I have experience of teenage girls,” she says. “I’ve lived through the epxerience and come out of it relatively unscathed. I’ve never been a ‘Big Sister’, but for me it’s about giving something back and trying to make a difference.”

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