University made me fall in love with stories again - Michael Morpurgo, OBE

Michael Morpurgo is the best-selling author of over 130 books for children,
including Private Peaceful, War Horse, The Butterfly Lion and Kensuke’s Kingdom.
Michael’s latest novel is An Eagle in the Snow, published in autumn 2015 by Harper Collins. 

Can you tell us about your educational background?
I went to primary school at St Matthias on the Warwick Road in London, just after the war, but was soon sent off to boarding school in Sussex – the Abbey, Ashurst Wood. I was there for six years, hated being away from home, loved rugby and singing. Then I went off to a school in Canterbury, the King’s School, where I got more used to being away from home and still loved rugby and singing. We wore strange uniforms, wing collars, black jackets, boaters. And when I was older I got to wear a scarlet gown, which made me feel very important.

What did having the opportunity to go to university mean for you? Did gaining a degree from King’s College London open doors?
I didn’t go straight to university but chose the army instead, and went to Sandhurst, where officers are trained. I liked the uniform, the good food and the friends I made, but hated being shouted at, and decided army life was not for me. I met and married my wife, Clare, when we were really young, because we loved one another, and had children really young, three of them. Then I went off to university at King’s College London, to start all over again. It was at King’s that I came into contact with some of the classic stories such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I loved them and have never forgotten listening to one professor who used to sit on the edge of the desk and read to us with incredible passion. It made me fall in love with stories again that I hadn’t connected with since listening to my mother read when I was a child. I got my degree in French and English – just – and decided to become a teacher.  

What took you from teaching to writing? What inspired you to become a children’s author?
I loved reading stories to the children, and they seemed to like it too. We were teaching at a little village primary school in Kent, at Wickhambreaux, when I ran out of other writers’ stories to read, so started making up some of my own.

War Horse is a well-loved and celebrated novel for many. Where did you get the inspiration for it?  
Clare and I have lived in Iddesleigh, in Devon, since 1975. It’s home, and I love it, and it’s where I belong. It’s where I know. My children have grown up here, my grandchildren come here. It’s the place I like to be when I’m not travelling around doing book things. And because I know it so well, I write about it a lot. That’s why I wrote War Horse, which is based pretty much here, on a Devon farm. I wrote that particular story from meeting an old soldier, Wilfred Ellis, thirty five years ago in the Duke of York pub down the road, when he told me about going to the First World War as a young man.

And that in itself is all part of being in Devon – you get an idea of the rhythm of life. How we all have our place or time on this earth. There’s the church, and you maybe get christened there, and you may get married there, and you may end up in the graveyard there. I know the people who planted the trees and ploughed the land, where they live and where they work. And you don’t know that until you stay in the place long enough. It’s England as it has been for 1,000 years. It’s quite a literary part of Devon. Ted Hughes, who was a great inspiration to me and an early encourager of my work, was a neighbour until his death in 1998, and the Torridge, at the end of my lane, which is one of the country’s great salmon rivers, is the setting for Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter.

Do you have a favourite author/book?
My favourite book is The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. I have been much helped in my own writing by many friends and writers, but especially Ted Hughes. He became a good friend, and was a great inspiration to me to keep writing when I was finding it hard.

Of which part of your career are you most proud? What has been your greatest achievement to date?
I always say that my greatest story is Farms for City Children. When Clare and I were both teachers, and trying to decide what was lacking in the lives of the city-based primary school children we taught, we realised that one important factor was a deep experience of the English countryside especially ‘the working countryside.’

The children learn hands-on where their food comes from, so, by the end of a whole week, they go back knowing what an extraordinary place the countryside is, knowing about planting, harvesting, milking, mucking out, feeding the animals, herding sheep. First of all some find it strange – because it smells different, it looks different, and it can be a bit frightening when the wind blows and the owls hoot at night. They see a wild rabbit. Not one that’s in a pen in a pet shop, but a wild rabbit in the field, or a hare, and fish jumping in the river. Those things which are part of the wild world, which are so important and which they don’t forget. It can be their first introduction to so much that’s new, and that’s what’s amazing about it.

This year, you and your wife Clare celebrated 40 years of Farms for City Children. Why is involvement in philanthropic activities, in particular those related to education and young people, so important to you?
40 years on there is even more need for children to experience nature as the vast majority of people in this country now are urban. They’re surrounded by high rise buildings, and tarmac, and noise, so this is a completely new world for them.

Children come down here and smell and experience the country. 99% have never seen darkness before, as it is at dawn. A lot of them don’t know where berries come from, or where their milk comes from. They don’t know what work it takes to produce it – so they actually join in and help. These are not lessons you can pick up by looking at the telly, or by drawings on boards or making little notes on the clipboards. They’re doing it themselves and that’s what’s really wonderful about the experience.

What do you see as the most pressing social issue for young people in the UK today? What do you see as the key to tackling this problem?
I have been working recently on a short WWF Climate Coalition Film, I wish for You, with actors Jeremy Irons and Maxine Peake.1

It was based on a letter I wrote from a grandfather to his granddaughter and sums up my answer to this question: ‘If I have learnt anything in my long life, it’s this. Our earth is a living breathing being, and we must hurt her no more. We are using her up, fouling the air and the sea, making a dustbin of the land, a sewer of the oceans, a graveyard of her creatures. We have to learn to love our earth again, love her as much as I love you and you love me. For you and I, we are a part of this living planet, part of our earth’s great family.’

Michael's interview is taken from IntoUniversity's summer 2016 edition of aspire, our termly newsletter. Read the full edition of aspire here.  


Graduate role models key to widening access to university

Exploring Westminster Hall. From left to right: Sam, student at the University of Manchester; Ben, IntoUniversity Hammersmith and Abel, student at the University of Manchester

Abel Solomon is a former IntoUniversity Hammersmith student and is now studying at the University of Manchester. On Wednesday 7th September 2016 he was invited to attend a meeting of the APPG on Students which focused on widening access to university among underrepresented groups. We caught up with Abel to find out how he found the event.

"The most significant part of the experience for me was the fact that I was representing people from my background and speaking on their behalf. I had the opportunity to raise the fact that there needs to be more role models for those underrepresented at university.

The general atmosphere in the room was openness to hearing about the challenges and obstacles in getting to university. The meeting enabled many different representatives of people from my background (i.e. those less likely to go to university) to put questions to MPs on the Bill Committee for Higher Education reform.

Abel (left) and Sam explore Westminster Hall
Sam, my friend from college and a fellow student at Manchester had the chance to open the meeting with an insight on how he overcame obstacles to Higher Education. I was proud that my friend was addressing important people and sharing his insight to help them make better laws for the future.

If I could suggest one change to support those underrepresented at university it would be reaching out to universities and employers and getting them to give advice and guidance to young people who don’t have graduate role models among their friends and family. Just like IntoUniversity does".

Could you be a role model to a young person?
Abel and Sam both took part in IntoUniversity's Corporate Mentoring Scheme. If you're a professional graduate and you'd like to find out how you could become a role model to a young person making the transition to university, please take a look at the IntoUniversity website or email to find out more. 

Celebrating Volunteers' Week 2016

By Lucy Goodwill, Volunteer Development Manager at IntoUniversity

Today sees the beginning of Volunteers’ Week, an annual celebration of the contribution volunteers make to society and their communities. 

This year the theme is 'The Big Celebration', meaning that the week will, in fact, go on for 12 days! 

Across the UK, from now until Sunday 12th June, charities and organisations will be running events and campaigns to recognise and showcase their volunteers.

IntoUniversity is no different, and we plan to celebrate in style. This year we will be launching our first ever Volunteer Conferences, offering our regular volunteers the chance to access additional training and to feed into the development of our volunteering strategy. We will also be holding our annual volunteer celebration event in London this evening, following on from our London conference, to share this year’s highlights and successes with a range of our valued supporters.

Online, we will be sharing quotes and photos from a number of the amazing people who donate their time to support us, as well as sharing updates from our events. In our centres, teams will be celebrating their volunteers with face-to-face thank yous.

Finally, we will be ending Volunteers’ Week by launching our Volunteer Associate Network. This new scheme will allow volunteers to keep in touch with our work once they’ve finished in their role. The scheme will offer volunteer alumni the chance to receive digital updates on the charity’s progress alongside invitations to events, so that the end of a volunteering programme doesn’t mean the end of a volunteer’s relationship with us.

We are really excited about these new developments and can’t wait to begin the celebrations. Without volunteers we simply couldn’t provide the support or achieve the success that we do – thank you so much to everyone who has volunteered with us this year and we look forward to the next year of incredible volunteering.

To find out more about the volunteering opportunities available at IntoUniversity, visit our website here or email

Inspiring a family to dream big

From top left to right: Aysha, Emmanuel, Naoise, Afreya.
From bottom left to right: Isabella, Anya (below), Amira (above).

Farah Ahmad from IntoUniversity Head Office speaks to Leeds East family the Redman-Pokus in the latest edition of our aspire newsletter.

Sisters Aysha and Afreya have attended IntoUniversity Leeds East ever since the centre first opened in November 2014 and have taken part in a range of programmes with us. Their involvement in the IntoUniversity programme inspired their mother, Naoise, to pursue her own dreams - she recently enrolled on to an English course at the University of Leeds.

Aysha and Afreya’s story

Aysha and Afreya heard about IntoUniversity Leeds East through their mother, Naoise, who first encountered IntoUniversity through a poster advertising the opening of the centre. When Naoise attended the open day with her mother and youngest daughters, she was taken aback by this ‘amazing opportunity’ and strongly encouraged Aysha and Afreya to attend.

Aysha is a Year 12 student at Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form and is studying for her A-Levels in Philosophy, Ethics, Sociology and English Language. Younger sister Afreya is in Year 9 at Abbey Grange Academy and is currently focused on her upcoming exams. Afreya mentions that her favourite subjects at school are PE and Music, and she also reveals that she plays the steel pans and loves to sing.

After a hesitant start for Aysha and a reluctance to engage with the team at IntoUniversity Leeds East, Naoise requested for Aysha to receive some one-to-one support with her Sixth Form application. This was a huge turning point for Aysha who started to communicate more with the centre staff. Since then, she has taken full advantage of all the opportunities available to her at IntoUniversity.

When asked why they both like attending the Leeds East centre, Aysha and Afreya agree that they thoroughly enjoy seeing their mentors and appreciate ‘the full attention’ they receive not only from their mentors, but also from the centre staff. Aysha speaks fondly of mentor Katie, a Law student at the University of Leeds, and states that while she was in Year 11, ‘[Katie] helped me put together a revision timetable, she spoke to me about my future, career options and we looked through university brochures.’ Afreya feels she has gained a new friend in her mentor, Caren, an Accounting and Finance student at the University of Leeds. Alongside her meetings with Caren to discuss academic life, Afreya is especially grateful for the social aspects of the meetings, and particularly enjoyed making a chocolate cake in her recent meeting with Caren.

As someone who initially needed encouragement to try new things and meet new people, Aysha has significantly broadened her horizons. Her confidence has continued to develop and, in the 2015 summer holidays, Aysha was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Canada for three weeks to take part in an Outward Bound expedition. Aysha proudly reflects on the experience: ‘It was the hardest adventure of my life. But I did it.’ Afreya is eager to follow in her older sister’s footsteps.

It was the hardest adventure of my life. But I did it.

From the brief conversation I had with Aysha and Afreya, it is evident they are both very determined and driven. Afreya knows that she wants to go on to university but, understandably, is at present focused on her GCSEs. Aysha would like to go to the University of Liverpool and is looking forward to beginning the application process, with the guidance and support of IntoUniversity.

Naoise’s story

Naoise reveals that ‘once [the girls] came for the first time [to Academic Support] that was it. They are really very focused.’ She is clearly very proud of Aysha and Afreya’s progress and is excited for her younger children to experience the same opportunities. Another of Naoise’s daughters, Amira, recently started at St Peter’s C of E Primary School and – now old enough – began her journey with IntoUniversity Leeds East in September 2015. Naoise recalls how committed Amira is to Academic Support: ‘Amira loves it. She will not miss a session. It was my birthday last week and I said “Amira, we’re having a day off.” She said to me “no – don’t phone!” She loves it!’

Inspired by her daughters, Naoise returned to education in September 2015 by enrolling on to an access course at the University of Leeds to study English. Naoise explained that she became unsure of her abilities during the application process but she was encouraged to keep going by thinking of her daughters: ‘At each point, I have thought about them. I thought about how hard Aysha works because she’s so determined. I kept thinking, well she’s working really hard – if she can do it then I should be able to. She just doesn’t give up, she just keeps going.’

Naoise, and the rest of the Redman-Poku family, are clear advocates for the IntoUniversity Leeds East centre. When asked whether she would recommend IntoUniversity to another parent, without hesitation she said: ‘Oh 100%, yeah! I tell everyone.’

Farah's interview with the Redman-Poku family is taken from edition 8 of IntoUniversity's termly newsletter aspire. Click here to read the full edition now.

Spotlight: James Lambert - IntoUniversity Chair of Trustees

'We have grown from helping a handful of individuals to a point where we are genuinely changing society for the better’

James was educated at Harrow School and read Law and History of Art at the University of Cambridge. He is a Director of Lisburne Holdings Ltd and is also a Director of Value Retail plc, which develops and operates factory outlet centres including Bicester Village in Oxfordshire.

The IntoUniversity programme began as a local project at the North Kensington centre. By 2006, the co-founders, Rachel Carr and Hugh Rayment-Pickard, knew from the burgeoning numbers and feedback from users that they had an extraordinary project on their hands. The question naturally arose: was this a one-off or could they replicate this success across several centres? They convened a symposium and invited politicians, educationalists and local community members to debate this question. I was – and am – part of the Bicester Village group that has expanded to multiple locations across Europe, so I had a sense of what it is to be part of a growing company and was in favour of expansion.

I went home and had a sleepless night thinking: ‘this is a terrific idea. The educational gap is neither fair nor good for society.  My kids are helped to aspire to go to university and receive all the backing they need whereas, literally a few hundred yards away, in the local authority flats over the road, there will be a child of equal intelligence who doesn’t have this aspiration or opportunity and consequently has a very different life outcome. Any idea that can successfully address this horrible inequality is a fantastic thing.  But what if, like many good ideas, it remains just that? There was no mention of funding for this mooted expansion – what will happen if it just doesn’t get traction?’

The next morning I got up and wrote a cheque. I then called two friends and asked whether they would consider doing the same and those two dear people said yes. So off I went to Sirdar Road and presented Rachel and Hugh with £30,000.

It seemed like a fateful moment. Rachel looked at Hugh, Hugh looked at Rachel. There was a long pause. Then Rachel said, laughing, ‘oh dear, now we really have to do it!’

And from that little acorn, seeing a handful of students, we have in less than ten years grown into this wonderful organisation with 21 centres. This year we will serve more than 21,500 young people.

What has driven and sustained this growth? Firstly and simply it remains a compelling idea. When you tell people that for society’s most disadvantaged cohort only 23% progress to Higher Education they are initially shocked, but when you add that when they have been through our programme that percentage rises to 80% they are then hugely supportive.

The power of the idea has enabled us to raise funding right across the spectrum, from single individuals to huge institutions, such as The Queen’s Trust and Impetus-PEF.

Moreover, we have been able to recruit an incredible team of intelligent and enthusiastic colleagues. Word seems to have got out that we are doing something worthwhile and we interview, on average, 18 graduate scheme applicants for each position. The full-time staff are supported by a corps of over 1,500 wonderful volunteers who give selflessly of their time.

Secondly, the need for what we do remains enormous. While we are now present in seven cities across England, our research shows many more areas with dire university progression rates that would be transformed by one of our centres. Over the next five years, we hope to extend our reach to more young people by opening additional centres and by expanding our programmes to best suit the needs of our students.

There is still much more to do. We have grown from helping a handful of individuals to a point where we are genuinely changing society for the better. Many consider us the most impressive charity driving social mobility in the country.

I went home and had a sleepless night thinking: ‘this is a terrific idea. The educational gap is neither fair nor good for society.'

As Trustees, we work closely with Senior Management to plan the pace of expansion. It is wonderful to be part of a growth story. An organisation that is not growing feels as if it is shrinking. Expansion is inspiring and as well as fundamentally helping more young people, it is attractive to funders who want to see an idea that is succeeding on a meaningful scale. It also creates a great atmosphere among our staff who see that if they succeed there is plenty of space for them to grow into very responsible roles at a young age. However, we Trustees are also very mindful that our expansion must be sustainable. Growth requires financial and management resources and so we try to find the right balance, carefully calibrating the number of centres we open each year so we are going as fast as we can without becoming overstretched.

Looking back, it is hard to believe how much we have grown and achieved in less than ten years. It is a remarkable narrative and we are truly indebted to our founders, our staff, our volunteers and our funders who make it possible for us to pursue this inspiring vision: closing the UK’s opportunity gap through education.

James' article is taken from the latest edition of IntoUniversity's termly newsletter aspire, published in May 2016. To read aspire in full, click here.