3 ways online mentoring can support your outreach work

In our 2021 Impact Report, we shared stories from our partnership with the University of Surrey and how they responded to the COVID-19 pandemic through expanding their digital outreach. Their Widening Participation and Outreach Team are always thinking creatively about how to improve their online offer for young people and are keen to try new things, so were able to react quickly and effectively to the lockdowns and cancellation of face-to-face activity. Their programmes saw fantastic engagement, with students participating in the virtual Summer Schools exchanging over 13,500 messages. Check out our Impact Report for more information (and inspiration!) about how the University designed and delivered their Summer School and European Connect programmes.

The last year has clearly shown that digital platforms offer innovative ways to provide alternatives to face-to-face interventions, but online elements can also be embedded into wider programmes of activity. For 18 years, we’ve been helping partners apply our technology to enhance and complement their existing outreach activity. Here are a few ideas based on our learning over the years:

  1. Mentoring as a follow-on from an event or programme to maximise the impact
    Offering young people a mentor as they finish a programme like a summer school or work experience placement is a great way to deepen the impact and ensure good engagement from the outset. Mentoring gives them time to explore the things they learned in more depth, and a 1:1 space to discuss how that learning can be applied to their own situation, skills and interests. Young people will often finish an intervention with high levels of motivation and enthusiasm, and mentoring can help turn that into sustained, positive progress towards their goals. If they opt into mentoring as part of a positive initial experience, they are likely to engage well from the start.

    Case Study: Global law firm Allen & Overy use the Brightside platform to deliver Smarter Futures, a structured online mentoring programme that follows their award-winning programme Smart Start for Year 12 students. The 2020 evaluation showed that 80% of mentees felt the mentoring had influenced their decision about post-18 pathways and 97% felt that decision was right for them. In the past, the University of Surrey have used online mentoring as a direct follow-on from their face-to-face summer schools, and we are excited to be working with the University of Law this year on a virtual work experience programme that will be followed by seven weeks of online mentoring.

  2. Mentoring to support practical skills development
    We know that good quality online mentoring supports confident and informed decision-making in mentees, but it can also be applied with a particular focus on more practical skills development. Many of our programmes aim to improve young people’s employability skills and readiness for the world of work, while others use a subject and study skills focus to engage young people.

    Case Study: Last year, Canterbury Christ Church University matched young people with mentors who could support them with study skills in core subjects like Maths, English and Science. CCCU recruited student ambassadors studying similar subjects to the GCSEs they were supporting, meaning they could use their subject-specific skills and experience to share study tips with their mentees. Along the way, mentees gained an insight into life as a university student that will help them consider their options in the future.

  1. Going beyond traditional 1:1 mentoring to build a sense of community and belonging
    Our partners are increasingly exploring how they can build networks, peer support and a sense of belonging into their digital outreach offer. Our platform offers group chats as well as 1:1 mentoring, which enable mentees to access a range of perspectives, build their own network and feel a sense of community around the organisation running the programme and the others taking part.

    Case Study: The Pathways to Medicine Programme at Newcastle University uses group chats to match students with multiple mentors – a GP, a clinician, and a student ambassador. It provides valuable wraparound support and advice, particularly when it comes to applying for medicine. And through a brand new partnership with the Service Children’s Progression (SCiP) Alliance, we will be using group chats to connect young people from Armed Forces families across the country, to tackle loneliness and isolation through peer support and more social interactions.

This is not an exhaustive list but we hope it provides a snapshot of the kinds of things you can achieve through adding mentoring into your existing activities. If you already work with Brightside and want to hear more about what others are doing just contact your Partnerships Manger. If you’re new to online mentoring and are wondering how we can help expand or enhance the work you do for young people please get in touch with Nick at nick.wells@brightside.org.uk – we’d love to hear from you!