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How community mentors can aid care leavers heading to the University of Cambridge

Cambridge students who arrive at university from care backgrounds or who have been estranged from their families are being offered local mentors as part of a new scheme.

The project, which is run by community interest company Concrete Rose with the University of Cambridge’s widening participation team, aims to help students who don’t have family to support them.

Mike Farrington, of Concrete Rose. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mike Farrington, of Concrete Rose. Picture: Keith Heppell

The young people are paired with a volunteer mentor, who can offer them a friendly ear as well as help with teaching them basic domestic skills and introducing them to hobby and interest groups so they can make friends in the wider community.

Mike Farrington, operations lead at Concrete Rose, said: “Young people who are care experienced or who have arrived at university estranged from their family can find themselves feeling lonely or unsupported. We found from speaking to students that they would benefit from a friendly adult in their lives.”

Concrete Rose was founded in 2020 to help young people leaving care to find supported lodgings, where they could live with a family until they found their own feet. That project is already seeing results and Mike was approached by the university to help find community mentors.

He said: “When we asked students what they wanted from a mentor, three things came up

“Firstly was just having someone there to turn to if they need some support or a bit of pastoral care, a friendly face really. Secondly, they wanted help with practical things like how to work a washing machine or defrost a chicken or manage their budget, which normally students are able to ask their family.

“Thirdly, care experienced or estranged students tend to make Cambridge their home - they don’t leave and go somewhere else at the end of term. So they needed help stepping out of the university bubble integrating into the local community by accessing some community activities.

“We decided to do a pilot this year, recruited around 20 mentors and gave them a day’s training on mentoring and empathetic listening and trauma informed care and those mentors started just before Christmas. We made 15 pairs initially and I think we’ve delivered something like over 100 sessions now. We just got some feedback from mentees, which was nice and very positive.”

Mike Farrington, from Concrete Rose. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mike Farrington, from Concrete Rose. Picture: Keith Heppell

One young mentee said: “Mentoring is like having a friend that can guide you to increase your potential. It was tailored to my specific needs so I could really gain the most out of our weekly sessions. Personally, I struggled with cooking at the start of the year but having my mentor organise weekly cooking sessions improved my confidence drastically.”

Another explained: “We meet up each week, usually in a cafe to talk and catch up. We try a different place each week. It’s nice to have someone to spend time with who has gone through the Cambridge student experience themselves.”

And a third student said: “Things have been going really well with [my mentor]. I always appreciate having her insight and suggestions on my work/school/life and it feels so good to have someone like her to talk with every now and then. Being mentored feels like having a familiar face amidst a sea of strangers. It has been a beautiful experience; she tries to understand my uncertainties and anxieties about life as a young person in a foreign land. She listens to me, laughs with me and provides valuable suggestions for my life.”

The University of Cambridge has seen how the scheme has been improving the lives of students.

Jon Datta, deputy head of widening participation at the university, said: “A mentoring scheme that connects care experienced students with community mentors is not just about providing direction or acting as a friendly ear, though both are important, it’s also about creating enduring relationships that can change the trajectory of their lives.

“By offering emotional support, encouragement, and guidance, mentors act as a sounding board for students, creating a safe space for them to learn and grow. Such a scheme can help these young individuals develop the confidence and life skills that last long after their studies end, making a significant difference in their future success.”

If you are interested in becoming a mentor, contact Concrete Rose at info@concreterose.co.uk.

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