A Cambridge undergraduate, who spent most of his childhood in care, has organised a conference to inspire other young people in care to aim high.

Up to 400 looked-after children and care leavers, aged between 16 and 21, have been invited to the event, which takes place this evening at Southwark Learning and Business Centre in South London.

Ashley John-Baptiste, a final year history student at Fitzwilliam College, set up the conference – which is called B Inspired - to bring young people from a similar background to his own into contact with organisations able to help them with education, training and career guidance.

“The aim of the event is to raise the aspirations of young people in the area of London I come from. There will be opportunities to network, gain advice and ultimately be propelled to a place of inspiration and dedication to achieve in the future,” said Ashley.
An introduction will be followed by workshops led by speakers who include a weatherman, a civil servant, a teacher and an online entrepreneur. They will share their experiences openly with groups of young people and explain how they overcame hardship to rise to the top.

“Now, more than ever, I’ve come to the realisation that as foster children and care leavers, we can achieve great things. This event is a chance for these young people to hear from role models who’ve achieved remarkable success in their careers,” said Ashley.
Looked-after children face a complex set of challenges and many do poorly at school. Only 16 per cent of looked-after children get five good GCSEs and just seven per cent of care leavers go into higher education (DCSF figures 2008).

Ashley was taken into care aged four and lived in several different foster families with a two-year period in a children’s home. He went to three primary schools and then to Bacon’s College in Southwark, where he remained right up to A-levels. He describes his teachers as “gently encouraging” and “perceptive of potential”.

Like many teenagers, and especially those in care, Ashley was “a bit rebellious and lackadaisical” in his early teens. What helped him settle was the chance to live in “a family unit with a mum, dad and siblings” and his Christian faith which provides him with a firm basis for living his life.

In the sixth form his school encouraged him to apply for a place on a Sutton Trust Summer School at Cambridge. He arrived full of trepidation (“I was worried that it would be all work and no fun”) but left with the confidence needed to apply. Crucially, he made friends and realised he would fit in.

“Going on that summer school was a turning point and after experiencing a taste of Cambridge I began to work with a sense of purpose – I really wanted to get in,” he said.
Last year, after meeting Conrad Sackey of the Windsor Fellowship, Ashley contacted Southwark Council to put forward his ideas for a conference for looked-after children and recent care leavers with the Windsor Fellowship’s Reach programme providing speakers. Organisations also taking stands at the conference include the British Youth Council, Connexions, Linklaters, Mills and Reeve, and Cambridge University.

Ashley says student life at Cambridge is: “Really exciting. You never know what you’re going to be doing from week to week as there are so many opportunities. The work is interesting and so are the people. Of course, it’s a big challenge academically but it’s rewarding too.

”Dr Paul Chirico, Senior Tutor of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, said: “Ashley is a wonderful member of the Fitzwilliam community. Like us he’s passionately committed to ensuring that the brightest students from every background can access Cambridge’s world-class education. I’ve been delighted to witness his contribution to raising the aspirations of young people, and to work with him in encouraging potential applicants.”

Cambridge University welcomes applications from UK students who have been in care. The University has recently been awarded the Frank Buttle Trust Quality Mark in recognition of its commitment to supporting care-leaver students and runs events and activities to raise the aspirations of looked-after children.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.