Twenty-three students who have combined working whilst studying, as well as overcoming other personal challenges, are celebrating graduating with a BSc (Hons) degree in Social Enterprise Leadership from the University of Cumbria.

The ALP2 students on the stairs of Brathay Hall at their final celebration

The Aspiring Leaders Programme, a partnership between the university, us and Common Purpose is primarily funded by the Francis C Scott Charitable Trust. It is believed to be the only qualification of its kind in the UK and its aim is to develop new community leaders in Cumbria.

The ethos of the unique degree fits well with a speech made at the graduation by the internationally renowned designer Wayne Hemingway. He and his wife Gerardine were collecting honorary fellowships from the university. The native of Morecambe called on Cumbria's Class of 2017 to "go out and make the world a better place".

And that is, indeed what Carlisle councillor Joanna Coleman and her fellow BSc Social Enterprise Leadership graduates are doing. The Citizen's Advice trustee, 35-year-old Joanna, was seen collecting her degree, gaining a first class, by her husband and daughter. The Harraby councillor said: "This has been tough. Juggling work, council commitments with constant assessment."

Annalee Holliday, 34, from Maryport, is a grants and donor services officer with Cumbria Community Foundation, near Cockermouth. She said, "I thought it would provide me with an opportunity to not only better myself but better my community."

Also collecting her degree was Workington’s Emma Gibbon, 37, who volunteers for the Workers Educational Association at the town's Trades Hall. "I'm really passionate about my community and I can't see myself living anywhere else so I wanted to do something that can make a big impact," said Emma.

Like many ALP students, Jack Todd, 23, who lives in Millom was "never interested in going to University” until he saw how the ALP programme would be taught and the opportunities it presented.

“The idea of sitting in lectures every day and coming out the other side with over £30,000 worth of debt did not interest me. But with the support of my host, Inspira, the Francis C Scott Charitable Trust, University of Cumbria, Brathay Trust and everyone else involved, my life has been thoroughly changed.” 

Hein van der Westhuizen from Workington explained why the degree provides an ideal starting point for young people with an interest in social action. The 26- year-old said: “The ALP is about giving passionate young people in Cumbria the chance to make a real difference in their communities in a sustainable way. It’s a great programme to learn about yourself and to meet others who are as passionate about positive change.”

Brathay’s Helen Carter has followed their journey closely, as well as providing support. She said: "The graduation of these 23 young people is testament to what is possible when you are given a chance. Most of them never imagined they would study for a degree. They have juggled family life, work and voluntary commitments with their university studies. So many young people from Cumbria leave to study or find work elsewhere. These graduates are already role models and leaders for their communities, committing to the place they love and one they have grown up in. The programme's vision is that, in time, they will lead and manage the voluntary sector across the area. It's probably a bit like passing a driving test - they have all the tools, now the real learning will begin!"

The group met for a second celebration at Brathay Hall near Ambleside on Friday 28 July. A taster weekend for those interested in the next three year programme, made possible with generous funding from the Francis C Scott Charitable Trust, Langdale Leisure, Sir John Fisher Foundation and Rathbones, takes place in August.

Alp Celebration Event 2017 Alp Celebration Event 2017 The Students And Mentors

Find out more about the Aspiring Leaders Programme here.