"It feels like a real community out there!"

Ivybridge Community College is a state-funded secondary school and academy in Devon. The college is one of the largest secondary schools in the UK with over 2,400 students on roll from a mixture of rural and urban back

grounds. This year, they’ve been working with Just Like Us on our Pride Groups programme. Rachel, the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Lead, has been our main point of contact and School Staff Champion.

I was asked recently to sum up our Pride Group in a few words and I replied; “Inclusive, thought provoking, friendly and welcoming”. At Ivybridge, we’ve been working hard to make our group all of those things and more with the help of Just Like Us.

We’re a large school, with nearly 2500 students and 200 members of staff from a range of different backgrounds stretching from Plymouth to Dartmoor, and I have loved leading our group these last few years. The group actually began unofficially and very low-key as a collection of different students who happened to be LGBT+ and grew through word of mouth. In 2019, I was asked to take it on and make it more official.

I’d say ours is a vocal group which has really established itself as part of the school’s fabric. For example, we’ve run assemblies on the importance of language and when the school planned to trial gender identity passports, I included the voices of my students in the discussion. Since becoming official, we’ve grown. We’re almost 30 strong with representatives from every single year group. While that may be a small number, it’s over three times as large as when we made it official. Our group has really become a place where both students and staff feel they can be supported to ask questions and learn from one another.

Speaking of support, the best thing about working with Just Like Us is just that! The support for both myself, the students and the group is fantastic. From resources to training and everything in between, it feels like a real community out there. Some highlights for me this year have been, firstly, the amount of guidance on how to adapt our group to be COVID safe. Just Like Us have built in both virtual and in-person guidance on how to run the groups this year. Secondly, in terms of resources, we loved running the Why LGBT+ stories matter​ session where we were able to create our own storyboard for adapting a fairy tale to be LGBT+ inclusive. We loved this resource so much that we’re making display artwork based on the group’s ideas.

When the group was made official, I knew I wanted outside support and Just Like Us was the perfect match. I feel like I’m seeing both the Pride Group members and the culture in our college change more and more with more conversations around homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. It has been so wonderful to take on this new responsibility with the support of Just Like Us. This has all been supported by my new role in the College as Equality and Diversity lead!

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