“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

With these words, Olympic swimmer and Trust athlete mentor, Adam Whitehead, wrapped up the AQA Unlocking Potential celebration event at the Gherkin in Central London this week. These were the last words Adam’s coach said to him before his last competitive race and they were a fitting way to mark the end of this year’s celebration event as the young people graduated the programme, which saw them learning key life skills from former and existing elite athletes, and began the next stage of their lives.

This year’s AQA Unlocking Potential programme was the tenth anniversary of the programme delivered in partnership with Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, and saw 80 young people from 20 schools across the country work with 17 athlete mentors to develop confidence and self esteem, and increase their aspirations. For many young people on the programme, this was their first visit to London and to be able to celebrate on the top floor of an iconic venue such as the Gherkin, was a fitting reward for all their hard work and dedication over the previous seven months. There were lots of ‘wows’ and selfies taken as we looked out over Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf and the rest of the London skyline.

To kick off the day our athlete mentors led a series of activities and games to with the young people, encouraging teamwork and stretching the young people to step outside of their comfort zones - the difference in the attitudes and engagement levels from events held as this year’s programme launched last December was incredible to see.

This was followed by a celebratory presentation highlighting the young people’s achievements throughout the programme, with certificates, Trust goodie bags and vouchers for everyone.

  

Shabnam Shahani, AQA Executive Director for Strategy and Business Development and executive team sponsor for AQA Unlocking Potential, said:

“It was a fantastic day and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, a perfect way to celebrate ten years of this amazing partnership between AQA and Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.

“Following the progress of the young people on AQA Unlocking Potential over the last seven months has been truly inspiring, they’ve overcome their own personal challenges and delivered incredible social action projects that have had a real impact in their local communities, supporting some very worthy causes.

“It’s an amazing programme to be part of and the athlete mentors work wonders with their young people. They inspire and motivate them to achieve things they never thought they could and truly help them realise their full potential.”

 

We were also joined by a former graduate of the programme, Haleemah Farooq. Haleemah, who is visually impaired, took part in the very first AQA Unlocking Potential and is now a barrister. Sharing her inspiring story with this year’s young people, she highlighted the positive impact the programme had on her, andhow it helped her overcome challenges she has faced. She was joined on stage by Commonwealth fencing champion Claire Bennett who mentored Haleemah on that very first programme, demonstrating the strong and enduring bond that is formed between a young person and athlete mentor.

The day ended with the outstanding achievement awards. Two young people were presented with a special prize, which they were nominated for by their athlete mentor, for their outstanding contribution and progress they have made over the last seven months and they both went home with an amazing set of Beats headphones. Many congratulations to Muhammed Adeem from Chorlton High School and Khadija Abasheikh from Eastlea Community School.

Ben Hilton, CEO at the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust said:

“What an amazing day at the AQA Unlocking Potential celebration event at the Gherkin in London. Every year the impact of the programme on young people seems to get bigger and better! We’re thrilled to also be celebrating 10 years of partnership with AQA, and are so proud of everything we have achieved together in schools across the country.

“It’s brilliant to know we’ve supported over 600 young people in those ten years, and after meeting many of the 80 students who took part in this year’s programme it’s clear to see the positive impact working with their athlete mentors has.

“The support from these role models, and the skills they learn during the programme will help them move onto the next phase of their lives with increased confidence and raised aspirations.”

 

Feedback on the day from the young people, teachers, athlete mentors, volunteers and various guests was amazingly positive but we think that two of the tweets shared by schools on the day sum up the impact of the programme on young people such as Bethany and the experience of coming to London for many who may not otherwise have had the opportunity.

 


Everyone at Dame Kelly Holmes Trust would like to thank AQA for their support over the last ten years with the AQA Unlocking Potential programme that has seen us support 622 students across 245 projects in that time. The video at the top of this page highlights many of the challenges faced by young people over this period and some of the amazing students and athlete mentors who have participated.