ReachShout - Minding our Language

Why the words we use about young people matter.

How do we talk about the young people we work with?

How do we describe the relationships they have with their mentors, or the impact we want mentoring to have on them?

What are the reasons they come to ReachOut? Why do they need the support that mentoring can provide?

These are some of the questions we’ve been asking ourselves recently. Questions that have led us to make some changes.

In a series of blog posts that we’re calling ReachShout, we’ll be sharing some of the ideas and conversations we’re having within our organisation. In our first post, ReachOut’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Tom Jeffery, looks at why the words we use to talk about young people matter.

At the start of this year, we set out to look at the way ReachOut positions ourselves in a crowded market. There are lots of organisations who do brilliant work to support young people. We wanted to understand what’s unique about the support we offer and how we can make ourselves stand out. You can read more about what we came up with in a recent blog by our Head of Marketing and Partnerships, James.

As part of this project however, we had the feeling that we didn’t just need to make some changes to the way we talked about ourselves as an organisation; we also needed to re-think how we talked about the young people we work with.

Describing ourselves as a charity that worked with ‘disadvantaged young people’, ‘young people from deprived areas’ or ‘young people with behavior issues, or low self-esteem’ didn’t sit right anymore.

Anyone who has ever been to a ReachOut project will tell you that the young people we work with are bright, funny, smart and ambitious. Recognising young people as individuals and celebrating their inherent strengths is, and always has been, at the centre of everything we do an organisation.

We were recognising a disconnect between what was at the heart of ReachOut and some of the language we used to describe it.

Just one example of this issue was a conversation with a teacher at one of our partner schools. They had been talking to some of our mentees who’d taken issue with some of the language on our website. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t like being referred to as ‘deprived’. They didn’t think that someone needed to ‘raise their ambitions’.

For us, this was hard. The last thing we wanted is for our mentees to feel anything but encouraged and supported by ReachOut. So, we set out a new principle – we wouldn’t talk about our young people in relation to something they “lacked” – commonly known as a ‘deficit-based’ approach. And we certainly wouldn’t say anything that we wouldn’t feel happy saying directly to them.

So, what are some of the changes we’re making to how we talk about the young people we work with?

We work with amazing and ambitions young people – individuals facing individual challenges and barriers. Our language needs to reflect this. No more talking about anyone being deprived or vulnerable. Instead, we work in under-resourced communities – places where we know the resource we have to offer can make a difference.   

The young people we work with don’t need anyone to raise their ambitions – we’re here to provide them with the tools and networks they need to achieve the ambitions we know they have. Career talks, workplace experience visits and support with interview skills and CV writing can help young people to access every and any career they want.

Young people don’t come to ReachOut because they’re lacking anything. They might need some additional support to reach and be confident in their potential but they’re not here because of a myriad of issues. We know that mentoring can help anyone, at any stage of life, and we want to provide the opportunity to develop in character and confidence to young people who we know could really benefit from it.  

Seeing the best in young people as individuals, listening to them, championing  and supporting them to grow in character and confidence has always been at the heart of ReachOut. It’s why we became a charity nearly 20 years ago, and it’s the common theme that runs through everything we do.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we can’t put forward a compelling case for why the communities we work in, and the young people we work with, need more support and investment, and how providing impactful, character focused mentoring is such an important part of that.

Talking about that with less of a focus on deficit is a learning curve – one that a lot of charities are going through at the moment. There are times where we might catch ourselves, and the people we work with, slipping back into that pattern – but it’s something we’re committed to change.

We’re an organisation where young people are, without doubt, our most important stakeholder – and the language we use matters.

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“At first, I was really hesitant to take on the Project Leader role, despite having mentored with ReachOut. However, with the support of the team I’ve really developed my skills. For example, at the Mentee Graduation, I stood up in front of 200 people and presented an award which is something I would never ever have been able to have done before, and isn’t an opportunity I could gain in my other situations.”

Amy McCutcheon, Project Leader at ReachOut Academy, Dean Trust Ardwick, Manchester.


“Being able to spend the summer working at Rede Partners, was an amazing experience. Whether it was working in HR or Finance, I learned so much about the world of private equity, made great connections with fantastic people and I got to learn first-hand what it would be like to work there! I really believe that I can go onto build the career I want now I’ve been a part for a workplace for real”

Victor Adekunle, 18 years old, ReachOut Ambassador, London


“When I first my mentee, she was very reluctant to participate in the sessions. Now, I see a completely different person! Her confidence has grown and she is happy to join in! She still has some self-doubt when it comes to academic work, but that’s what I hope to help her overcome, because she is a very bright person!

Through mentoring, I’ve learnt I’m a lot more patient than I realised. There will be days where she refuses to participate and those are the days that I really see the importance of the character strengths, for both the mentees and the mentors. It also makes it easier for the mentee to understand the character strengths, when I use them myself”

Myrtle, ReachOut Club mentor at Tufnell Primary School, London


“There are more distractions than ever outside of school, and the commitment of our students to attend ReachOut sessions is testament to the value they place on the relationships they foster there, and the challenge and enjoyment they provide.

ReachOut’s focus on communication skills and character development has become an important aspect of our provision of support for these students. The opportunity to relate to a positive role- model other than their usual teachers is key to the programme’s impact, and the evidence of this has been seen in the students’ attendance, resilience and to their overall progress across all the subjects in the school.”

Thomas Janvrin, Assistant Vice Principal at the Petchey Academy London