As part of International Women’s Day, pupils at Bolton School Girls’ Division were given a wealth of advice from twenty high-achieving former pupils. Across a day of speeches and discussions, girls were told to grasp opportunities, challenge yourself, build resilience, follow your instincts and take risks!
In an inspirational opening address, Stephanie Barwise QC, who is one of the lead QCs in The Grenfell Tower Inquiry and was featured in The Lawyer’s 2019 ‘Hot 100’ list, told girls not to worry if they are not yet certain about their career path – what is more important is having a will to succeed. As the world and employment opportunities develop apace, Stephanie told them that creativity and personality will become ever more important traits.
Recapping her career to date, she told how, having left Bolton School, she had initially studied languages at the University of Cambridge but after a year changed to study Law, where she developed a fascination for commercial law, particularly construction. She admitted being a barrister as opposed to a solicitor seemed to offer more freedom and glamour! She reminded girls of a Richard Branson quote: “Say yes and learn how to do it later” which encapsulated her own experience when she became involved in cases in which she was not initially an expert, namely the Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry and the representation of Colombian farmers against BP. Both these cases, along with advisory work for the Ministry of Defence on iRobots, helped build her reputation and led in turn to her being asked to become involved in the ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry. She told girls how 72 people had died in the fire, which was the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War, and that the Inquiry will change the way people that live in social housing are viewed, fire safety procedures and building regulations.
Reflecting on her days as a Bolton School girl, she felt that she had been given the very best preparation for life. Being surrounded by highly intelligent pupils and staff had helped her develop confidence and debating skills and she had learnt how to present an argument in a thoughtful and entertaining way, discovering how humour and self-deprecation can be powerful tools. The School, she said, also imbued her with good communication skills and an ability to relate to different people and to be able to gain their confidence. Whilst her strength had been in the Arts, she wished she had taken an A level in a Science subject as nowadays a lot of her work has a technical and scientific aspect. She told girls to take risks and to try and avoid being labelled too early in life. She said young minds are flexible and you can end up liking and doing things later in your career that you never thought you would. The School, she said, had encouraged in her a drive to do public service and this was exemplified by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Reviewing her five takeaway points for the whole school assembly, she said ‘keep an open mind, make your own luck and follow your instincts, be bold but stay humble, have a strong sense of what is right and wrong and keep your sense of gratitude.”
Throughout the day, Year 8 classes enjoyed further informative sessions with Laura Moss, a solicitor; Hanna Miraftab, dentist and tv personality; Vicki Guest, Headteacher at Lostock Primary School; Jocelyn Patel, a GP Partner; Karen Diggle, MD of Chamberlain Doors and current School Governor; and Tia Louden, Incident Co-ordination and Communications Lead in the tech sector. There were further inspiring talks to Year 10 girls from Raisa Saley, Barrister; Samantha Williams, university lecturer in Graphic Design; Georgia Hinchliffe, who starts work at Microsoft later in the year; and Pamela Thompson, Deputy Director at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Year 9 listened to presentations from Charlotte Fielding, a Modern Languages university student; Cherie Cunningham, Head of Marketing at UKTV; Heather Henry, Nurse Entrepreneur and Health Policy Influencer; and Helen Pantelides, Senior Associate at international law firm Taylor Wessing.
There were also round-table questions and answers sessions and an afternoon of ‘speed-dating’ which saw Y12 girls have short face to face discussions with the former pupils. Besides the guest speakers, pupils also spoke with Rebecca Brayshaw, entrepreneur; Rebecca Dixon, a student of Medicine; Victoria Gibson, Business Manager at Lancashire Safeguarding Children and Adult Boards; Natasha Lomas, freelance musician and teacher; and Louise Yates, Doctor.
Headmistress Sue Hincks said: “I offer great thanks to all the highly successful former pupils who have returned today. They have made International Women’s Day one to remember for the current pupils, who have been given invaluable advice on how to succeed in life and at work.”