When I first met Chris, I was blown away by his story and achievements. He’s got the perfect balance of letting his life story inspire and drive him, whilst not allowing it to consume or over-power his work. Chris is a genuine inspiration. There’s not many people from beginnings such as ours that decide, at such a young age, to dedicate their life to giving back. Chris has the perfect blend of humility, intellect and ambition – making him a perfect role model, leader and colleague. I caught up with him last week to see how things are going….
What do you do, and how do you benefit the local sector?
I run Role Models Yorkshire, we’re a nonprofit that aims to improve the education and career ambitions of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The way we do this is through positive professional role models, who themselves are from disadvantaged backgrounds. We run mentoring programmes, workshops, challenges and have recently launched the RMhub our virtual role model platform.
What inequalities in York are you most passionate about and why?
I’m most passionate about the attainment gap between young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. In particular, I believe that the lack of access to role models from a disadvantaged background who have gone onto gain highly successful careers plays a key role in the attainment gap.
My passionate is born out of my own experience. I was brought up in the nearby city of Hull, where my older brothers (my role models at the time) were involved in crime and we were living in poverty. I felt that education wasn’t much use, as everything around me was evidence that ‘people like me’ didn’t go to university or have successful careers. Fortunately, after moving to York to work in the Portakabin factory, I met a student from the University of York, who showed me that ‘people like me’ could go to university. As a result, I am now a student at York pursuing a degree in electronic engineering.
Because of York’s important part in my personal journey, I am particularly passionate about giving back to the community and supporting the next generation.
Who are some of your favourite organisations in York and why?
Now I don’t want to be a bum kisser, but Social Vision is my favourite organisation in York because Joe helped me to set up Role Models Yorkshire and has been a great mentor throughout. Of course, I’m a big fan of the University and the Student’s Union, they provide a large number of employment opportunities in the city and are leading the way in the Russell Group in many areas of social mobility. Pete Quinn is also a great support to Role Models Yorkshire and his links to the university definitely provide some useful insights. Big Futures Foundation is also one of my favourite organisations in the city, because of its commitment to supporting the community and young people. I have to mention York Science Park, they provide Role Models Yorkshire with a workspace and lots of support, as well as being a place that I have made some great friends who are passionate about social mobility.
What does success look like for you and your work?
Success for me and the Role Models Yorkshire team is seeing young people inspired and empowered to achieve their potential; as well as them getting out there and doing great things.
How has coronavirus affected your beneficiaries?
It’s been a very difficult period for all young people and the constantly opening/closing of schools has undoubtedly impacted their development. Whatsmore, there have been particularly disruptive ramifications for the education of disadvantaged young people; many of whom simply haven’t had the same access to support as their more privileged peers.
What does 2021 look like?
The newest branch of Role Models Yorkshire is a research team, they’re currently working on a project to see how we can support young people coming out of COVID-19. We’ve also launched our new online hub (RMhub), a learning platform aimed at providing young people with virtual role models who are studying at the UK’s top universities. Moreover, we will relaunch the Yorkshire Engineering Challenge a competition that we had to cancel this year due to COVID-19. Furthermore, I am working on a project with the team to develop a learning series aimed at teaching young people the key to succeeding in maths; this is particularly important to me, as when I used to say maths wasn’t for me at school but now I’m studying a highly mathematical degree (there’s a key and I’m keen to share it).
What do you love about York and what would you change?
Coming from Hull, the second most bombed city in the Blitz (after London) pre-WW2 history was destroyed. So, when I moved to York, I was blown back by the amount of history that is around every corner. I love walking through the old streets. More than the city streets though, I love the sense of community here, the willingness to support each other and the dedication to helping others to succeed.
And finally, what’s the best way for people to contact you?