Jessica Danskin is busy preparing for her biggest step yet, heading across the country to interviews at universities.

Moving away to study isn’t something the 18-year-old science student had ever considered but thanks to Newcastle College’s partnership with The Girl’s Network, she has built the confidence and support network to fly the nest.

“I want to study Paramedic Science,” Jessica says. “It wasn’t my plan to move away but my mentor from The Girls’ Network has helped me with my application, personal statement and is now helping me to prepare for my interviews.”

That supportive mentor is Helen Spencer, Executive Producer broadcast and digital sector and a proud member of The Girls’ Network. It’s a scheme which works with schools and colleges across the country to put girls aged 14-19 in touch with a female mentor who can support them over one year. Its mission is to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities and offer them opportunities they may not have had otherwise.

“I was a student at Newcastle College in the 1980s,” says Helen. “So when The Girls’ Network mentioned some students there wanted a mentor I jumped at the chance to volunteer. I know how much the teenage me would have loved to have someone outside of education or family to help inspire and empower me.”

In less than five months since Jessica started her journey with the network, Helen has helped her out of her shell and opened her up to new people and new experiences, including Jessica’s personal favourite, a visit to an ambulance station.

Helen continues: “Meeting and mentoring Jessica has been fantastic. From the get go, I was keen to help build her confidence and see that the world is her oyster.”

“I’ve introduced her to a wide range of professionals to show her there are amazing women from all backgrounds, at all levels, across all types of businesses and she can be one of them.”

It was Jessica’s lack of self-confidence which led her science tutor at Newcastle College to refer her to The Girls’ Network. Despite her ambition to be a paramedic, she has suffered from anxiety and bad mental health over recent years, the result of missing a lot of school when she was younger.

“I was born with a congenital heart condition,” Jessica explains. “One of the valves which sends blood to my heart starts to narrow. I’ve had it replaced three times and I’m going to need it replaced again in the future.

“I think that’s where my mental health issues really developed, because my last operation was only five years ago and I spent a lot of time that I should have been in high school in hospital.

“It was draining and I saw myself differently to everybody else. I felt like I didn’t fit in.”

Now, with the help of Helen and The Girls’ Network, Jessica is not only realising her ambitions, but tackling her mental health issues too.

“When I was doing my GCSEs I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do but this is now my third year of college and I’m absolutely loving it,” she says.

“I work in a hospital and my heart condition means I’m used to being in hospitals and I realised that’s what I want to do. Being a paramedic means being on the front line and the adrenaline rush makes me happy. I see a lot of it at work and I just want to be able to help people and be there when they need you the most.

“Helen is lovely. I didn’t expect to get on with her so well but she’s like a friend. I could talk to her about anything and she will understand. She has helped me in a lot of different ways but has really helped with my anxiety because I’m getting out of the house more and putting myself in new situations. I’m doing more outside of college now as well.”

As her mentor, Helen agrees that the scheme has worked especially well for Jessica, adding: “Jessica has embraced all the opportunities offered. It’s really rewarding to see her begin to recognise the skills she already has and to see her build new ones. It’s been less than a year and in that short time I’ve seen Jess blossom.

“Wherever life takes her I’m confident she’ll be able to draw on some of the techniques she’s learnt via The Girls’ Network and will be able to show what a great asset she will be to any university or workplace.”