Girls Out Loud: an interview with Jane Kenyon

Girls Out Loud: an interview with Jane Kenyon

Missguided recently announced their #makeHERstory campaign, a collection of t-shirts with empowering feminist slogans. They pledged to donate 8% of the profits from every item in the campaign collection to Manchester-based charity Girls Out Loud. What Missguided didn’t tell you is how fabulous the charity they are supporting is. I spoke to founder Jane Kenyon to get the whole story.

Girls Out Loud is an organisation dedicated to empowering teenage girls. Their primary focus is on what founder Jane Kenyon describes as “middle girls” – the girls around the age of 13 who get lost amongst the bolder, badly behaved girls and the ultra-clever girls.

“The first are the girls that are gifted and talented, they sit at the top of the tree, they get lots of attention, they get lots of investment, the teachers love them. They make up about 10-15%. At the other end you’ve got girls that are considered vulnerable and troubled. Again they get lots of attention and investment, lots of intervention work and they make up maybe 15/18% of the girls”, Jane explained.

“The rest sit in the middle, and they just cruise, they’re invisible, and they are underperforming and underachieving. There’s masses of potential in the middle and that’s where we focus. We help those girls really get out of their comfort zone, we work with them, we don’t judge them. We’ve got no agenda other than to get them to understand how amazing they are, we’re all about empowering those middle girls.”

“we’ve got no agenda other than to get them to understand how amazing they are”

For Girls Out Loud, there’s no focus on career aspirations or even exams and coursework – it’s all about making teenage girls realise they already have everything they need, and helping them believe in themselves. “What we’re doing is helping those girls work out who they are and how amazing they are, and finding their own internal strengths, their resilience, because then they will make the right decisions”, says Jane.

“We’re all about doing exercises with them around their identity, strength, confidence, how to stay safe and look after themselves online, about body confidence issues, looking at relationships with other girls and their families, teachers, boyfriends, putting themselves first and having self respect. All that stuff that actually gets lost, that’s what’s important to us.”

jane_kenyon_profileBefore starting Girls Out Loud, Jane Kenyon was an entrepreneur, and had been running businesses since the age of 26. “I got to my late 30s and decided I needed to find something that was a bit more cause driven, so I started working with women. I trained to be a coach and cognitive behavioural therapist. I set up a company called the Well Heeled Divas that is about connecting women on a much bigger scale.

“Then I started to get uncomfortable about girls. I didn’t like what I was seeing. I didn’t like some of the stats that were coming out around teen pregnancies, self harming and mental health. I started talking about it, writing about it, got invited into schools as a speaker, didn’t like what I was seeing in schools, but I didn’t want to keep putting a plaster on something by doing a motivational speech, I wanted to develop something that had a bit of teeth, that would get underneath some of these issues.

“So I took all my skills as a coach and as a behavioural therapist and developed a pilot intervention program for a group of girls in Blackpool. Long story short it was a baptism of fire, it worked, and I decided I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to working with girls. Then I set up Girls Out Loud and here we are.”

“I decided I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to working with girls”

They work predominantly in the North West, and only in schools. They run workshops – anything from two hours to a full day – to help girls realise their full potential. Then there’s Big Sister, a 12-month structured mentoring program, where girls are matched to a role model – midwives, bank managers, barristers, entrepreneurs, you name it – and they work together in a one on one relationship. They also work as part of a group of big and little sisters so the girls gain a support network. “We just see a complete transformation in those girls”, Jane says. “We turn around girls all the time, and we probably start to see those shifts around the six-month stage.

“We’re really strategic with how we match those girls with mentors. So we’ll see the shy girls literally blossom – we’ve had situations where the girls have been so shy they couldn’t even speak, to within six months they’re doing a rap in assembly. The shift in their confidence is so obvious.

“The girls who are queen bees, what we look to do is channel their energy and their drive, because we show them they’ve got natural leadership ability but they’re channelling it wrong, and they could become very powerful and very influential if they get that. So we generally see those girls becoming head girl.

“And then the girls that have dumbed down, we connect them with a cool and clever big sister, so we might connect them with a civil engineer who’s really cool, or a barrister that walks in in her stiletto heels and her red lippy, so they get that you can actually be cool and clever, and they go right back up and perform at an A* level, when they’d just been middling it before.”

“we’re so passionate about what we do, we don’t take no for an answer”

The organisation was launched in April 2010, and has gone from strength to strength ever since. “We’re in our eighth year, to date we’ve worked with 38 schools and we’ve changed the lives of over 6500 girls. I think our resilience is what I’m most proud of, and because we’re so passionate about what we do, we don’t take no for an answer, we’re constantly looking at different ways of funding what we do, because we know that what we do works, and there are many organisations that have been involved in similar stuff that have walked away, because this is a very tough game. So I’d be most proud of the fact that we’re still here.”

You can get involved with Girls Out Loud here.

Abigail Firth

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