For a truly alternative gap year, why not have a year here?

More school leavers than ever before are heading off, but if the thought – and cost – of saving elephants in Kenya fills you with dread, there’s a new option closer to home

The ‘gap year’ phenomenon is reaching its peak. It’s now a multi-million pound industry, sending thousands of school leavers abroad every year to, say, work saving orphans in Tanzania. One company in London is offering school leavers something a little different.

The founder of Year Here Jack Graham explains the origins of the organisation: “I got thinking about why we feel we have to go thousands of miles away to make a difference, when actually there’s a lot of stuff going on in our back yard?

“I'm interested in the idea of reinventing the gap year for the 21st century, if it could be applied to that very big purpose of getting really bright kids really well prepared to go out and become social leaders or politicians or whatever. To try and make society better for everyone by crafting an experience that actually prepares them.”

Year Here is a social enterprise project that aims to put Britain onto the traditional ‘gap year’ map. Instead of heading to Asia, the impetus behind Year Here wants to see change on our doorstep, offering the opportunity to top school leavers and graduates. The scheme is billed as an ‘aspirational UK-based gap year’, and Jack hopes to attract socially minded ‘bright young things’. All will be engaging with their local community in London, within three key ‘challenge’ areas of homelessness, educational disparity and helping the aged. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do leaving university” says Michael Simpson, 23, a Manchester university grad, and now a 2013 ‘Fellow’ of Year Here. Michael is now one of 12 graduates piloting Year Here’s six-month graduate scheme, having competed with hundreds to secure a place. Over the last few months he’s been involved in a variety of projects, principally working with kids from Hatch End School in London, under the education challenge.

He’s enthusiastic about the scheme and what it’s given him: “It really makes you think on your feet, and I think a lot of that is lacking in the way we’re educated at the moment, because we’re not taught to deal with real life situations when really the working world is very different from university or school.”

Onto our own front lines

Almost from the beginning the graduates were thrown into the front line of their challenge areas. Cambridge graduate Vanessa Lefton, 22, who worked with young people in a homeless shelter, says that “Year Here seemed to be the first internship that let you do things yourself, on your own terms and kind of challenge yourself in a much more exciting way than just sitting in an office.”

Although she conceded that the first weeks were tough, as the graduates quickly acclimatised from the rigours of slow-burning academia to fast-paced active involvement, the opportunities were invaluable.

“I’d never have so much responsibility first of all in the front-line placement, working with young homeless people. I know that other people wanting to get into that kind of work have to go through a lot more stages to get there so that was a real opportunity.”

Indie Shergill, 24, was a St. Andrews graduate who struggled to find work coming out of university. Accepted to Year Here, working with dementia patients, he considers the months he spent with the project invaluable. He says it’s given him the ‘soft skills’ that older representatives in the social sector lack.

“I think often the subjects of the social sector, the recipients, are being represented by a lot of people who have never worked with them, and it's difficult to have that connection with them.”

The three graduates had all been thrown into the deep end of their challenge area. The months, starting in March and finishing a couple of weeks from today, had been inspiring but never easy. Year Here has a large network of individuals, from the staff to mentors, who help the graduates out but its emphasis on responsibility and front-line work means you’ve got to be prepared to work.

Speaking to Jack, it's clear the gap year students will follow a similar mould – but a little more relaxed: “The gap year programme is going to be similar, but a bit more fun. We’ll be going to a couple of festivals, we’ll be going to Scotland and stuff like that. The social entrepreneurship project will be more like building a portfolio of different experiences.”  

But, like everything nowadays, it isn't free. It’ll set you back £1,000, and unless you live in London, you’ll need somewhere to stay. The costs will go into access and training from top social entrepreneurs and cheap tickets to entertainment events. Crucially, it’ll offer the opportunity to build a portfolio of creative projects, superficially allowing school leavers to boost their employability. 

So although the programme will cost you, as Vanessa says, “if I thought it was going to be for the sake of the CV I don’t think I would have done it. It hasn’t disappointed because the things we’ve done have gone a lot deeper than a couple of sentences.”

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Humanities Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

Art & Design Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Science Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits