Diane Cooke discovers a mentoring scheme aiming to help teenage girls at a Blackburn school

WOMEN’S champion is looking for female role models to act as mentors for a ground-breaking scheme designed to raise teenage girls’ aspirations 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.

In January, 20 girls will be 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 local wallpaper company Graham and Brown whose finance director, Gillian Van Laarhoven, is an ambassador.

Jane Kenyon says: “Our aim is to embed a more empowering mindset in girls which, in turn, reconnects them to education and helps them achieve exam success. It also broadens their aspirations, improves their self-image and encourages them to make better life decisions. They then go on to become role models for future generations.”

Jane, who had difficulties with her mother as a teenager and was kicked out of her home at 16, has been bankrupt and a millionairess, but is best known latterly for her Well-Heeled Divas female empowerment organisation, which encourages women to “step up and shine”.

She founded Girls Out Loud in response to teenage problems she witnessed in schools and heard about from mums in her organisation.

“Girls face all sorts of challenges today,” Jane adds. “Attempts to retain an element of individuality are threatened on a daily basis by the media, celebrity culture, premature sexualisation, peer pressure and bullying.

“I’ve worked with girls who have never met a barrister, a train driver, a vet or an entrepreneur, so would never have aspirations to pursue such a career because they can’t imagine what it would be like.

“There is a shortage of positive role models. They don’t need the likes of Rihanna, Cheryl Cole, Miley Cyrus, Tulisa, Jordan or the Geordie Shore girls. More positive female role models are Jessica Ennis, JessieJ, Fearne Cotton, Florence Welch, Pink, Beyonce and Ellie Goulding. They are all positive, strong, successful women who are leading the way. And that is what the Big Sister programme is all about.”

The scheme targets girls who are coasting and not realising their full potential. Other schemes for vulnerable, disconnected girls on the point of exclusion are also available.

Jane says: “We have seen some amazing results – painfully shy girls, who hide behind their hair, have entered school public speaking competitions. Others have stopped wearing make-up because they no longer feel they need it. But, significantly, they all perform a lot better academically.”

Anyone wishing to volunteer as a Big Sister role model will receive 12 hours’ mentor training, which takes in child protection and boundaries issues. Mentoring takes the form of an hour’s meeting once a month and all volunteers are supported throughout by the Girls Out Loud team. Training starts in November.

Contact Jane through the website http://www.girlsout loud.org.uk/ or email jane@girlsoutloud.org.uk.