Jules Dunlop: Paving a clearer pathway to energy education

Repowering London’s Education & Training Manager brings a big dose of empathy as well as experience to our community energy learning programmes

Jules Dunlop, Repowering London’s Education & Training Manager, knows all about being a late bloomer, getting over setbacks and finding your way through the confusing landscape of education and work.

Jules herself didn’t have an easy time at school after the primary stage. Having made a from a State-sector primary school to a private secondary school, she found she “really didn’t gel with it”. Finding herself feeling uncomfortable in that environment, she says: “I just stopped working and realising my potential.” As a result, Jules left school at 16 with just four O-Levels.

After a short stint teaching English in Nigeria, Jules returned to the UK and successfully applied to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, which turned out to be “a great learning experience but a bad decision”, she says. “I thought I wanted to be an actress because I had done a lot of drama at school and I did really enjoy acting.” Although she learned an enormous amount on that course, she found she wasn’t prepared for just how demanding and downright brutal the world of drama could be and decided that an acting career wasn’t the right way forward.

In some ways, she says, her drama study was costly detour, with the result that: “From around 18 to 26 I didn’t get into a career path. Then I had my daughter when I was 30, so I didn’t get into a solid career until I was 40.” However, that career began with an opportunity to teach Functional Skills English at Clean Break, a theatre organisation that works with women who have come through the criminal justice system, so it was a great way to use her earlier training. At the same time, she was accepted onto a part-time post-graduate certificate (PGCE) course in adult literacy at the Institute of Education (University College London). She credits her ability to access that PGCE course partly to fact that because among her four O-Levels was a good result in English. This reinforced to her the importance of having strong basic English skills and made her “quite passionate” about getting into teaching to help others develop them.

After completing the PGCE, Jules devoted 12 years to teaching English, working particularly in alternative provision and pupil referral units. This gave her a wealth of experience of working with vulnerable students, students that were disengaged, or extremely bright students who – for whatever reason – hadn’t thrived in mainstream education. It also opened her eyes to the fact that many of these young people struggled with literacy, “which meant that when they did want to get out into the big, wide world it was going to be very difficult”.

Perfect position

In common with many classroom teachers, however, Jules found herself feeling drained after years of doing this demanding, hands-on work. She set to use her skills in education outside of a classroom and “applied for anything where I would be predominantly helping people realise that they had a right to education, to respect the natural gifts they have, and to channel them”. When the opportunity at Repowering London came along, she thought: “Fantastic. They strive for climate change action, which is a cause I believe in. It was a perfect job for me to apply for.”

Today, Jules administers and facilitates our Youth Training Programme (YTP) for 16-19 year olds and is designing an Education to Work (ETW) programme aimed at a slightly older cohort and also people who are not in education, employment or training. ETW will include employability skills training, sustainability inspiration sessions, and mentoring and support aimed at getting young people into either an accredited training programme, a work experience opportunity, an apprenticeship or job.

“Whether it’s with ETW or the YTP, we can introduce them to the thinking behind community energy and renewable energy, which then will open them up to how to feed back into their communities. This is the gap we fill: giving them an introduction to the mechanisms and all of the things that come under the umbrella of community energy and community.” While their school, or their science teacher might teach them the facts about climate change, says Jules, “what we do differently is to take these facts and show them solutions”.

Leaps and links

“For example, with Repowering London’s community energy model not only do we put solar panels on a roof, but the community building they sit on may then be saving £750 a year on bills and using that to fund a free course for 9-year-olds. It’s a model that creates a chain of benefits with wider ripples. It’s by making these kind of links and leaps that we can opens people’s eyes to community energy and how community works and inspire them to get involved.” Another key role she sees is introducing young people to the many inspiring people within the community energy sector, “who can be role models for them and that they can look up to”.

Going forward, Jules hopes to continue to weave a golden thread of inspiration through all of Repowering London’s education and training work, bringing as much creativity as possible into the sessions. She says she’ll be really satisfied when she can see “a respectable percentage [of the young people] doing some Green skills training, genuinely succeeding and, in a few years’ time working for one of our contacts, or Octopus Energy, or as a Director at one of our community energy co-operatives – to see some of the people that we inspired and opened our doors to working with some of our partners and beyond.”

Meanwhile, she’ll be applying to her role her first-hand knowledge of the fact that you don’t have to follow the prescriptive rule of “GCSE to A-Levels to university” to be very good at a job. “For me, there’s an awareness that a lot of people do have a talent and just need certain support – and I think I can bring all that to the table.”

See our Youth Training Programme in action by viewing our new video. Or learn more about our full Education & Training programme. Would you like to offer a work placement to one of our future trainees? Please get in touch.

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