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.”

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing software co...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate / Digital Account Exe...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to join...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'