Travel Diary: Ideas Lab, London

Helen Drummond, our Director of School and College Engagement, reflects on a stimulating day’s discussion at the first of our Ideas Labs, held among the glorious surroundings of the Royal Veterinary College in London.


For anyone unfamiliar with the Royal Veterinary College’s building, nestled between Camden and Euston, you are in for a treat. It’s a beautiful building, packed with history, not to mention skeletons of elephants, ostriches, sloths and some live ponies and sheep. It’s a veritable treasure trove, yet with some of the most sensitive recent renovations it’s clear you are in a modern, global institution.

RVC was the host of our first Ideas Lab today, a session for WP practitioners from around the country to come together to celebrate, reflect and discuss the work they are doing with schools.

After more than 20 years of partnership working between HEIs and schools/colleges, it’s clear that there are many effective, successful approaches to widening participation. In fact, last year’s NCOP report recognised many of these successes, not least the 1,200 schools across the country engaged in activities.

It also noted that ‘bespoke programmes’ were particularly effective at engaging schools and colleges, but that there were challenges in implementing them.

So the idea behind today’s Ideas Lab was simple: make time and space for people involved in these activities to reflect on recent initiatives, share successes and the thinking behind them, and identify ways to ensure sustainability. As we all receive public funds to run most of our activities, we believe it’s important to share.


We looked at student events, teacher CPD and how to create a sustainable offering. For each session we demonstrated one of our own activities and asked for critique: what did people like, what could be improved.

We considered what the guiding principles should be for impactful student activities and outstanding teacher CPD, and we’ll use the all the feedback to create a new ‘Progression Roadmap’ tool for WP practitioners, which we’ll share once we’ve finished our tour of the country.

It’s a real treat, and a rare privilege, to have the time and space to come together to talk, interact, share, and try to understand the schools, students and families we want to serve. Absolutely everybody said they found the day useful, and their highlights were as varied as the attendees themselves.

Leaving the elephant skeletons behind in one of London’s smaller HE gems, our guests, a varied mix of representatives from University WP departments, NCOPs and FE colleges from around the south of England, have hopefully made some new contacts, reflected on their own work and shared some good practice, and learned about how to better communicate their offer to schools.

We’re running two more Ideas Labs in early April, in Manchester on 1st April and Bristol on 2nd April. A few tickets remain - see our Ideas Labs page for more information and how to book.