Will's journey from Garstang Youth Council to Oxford and top law firm

A former Garstang youth councillor who has just graduated from Oxford says more students from the north west should consider applying to the university.

Former Youth Councillor Will Atkinson has just completed his law degree studies at Oxford University - now he wants other northern students to apply for Oxford too.

The 22 year old credits Garstang Town Council and his Lancashire school with setting him on the journey to success.

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Will became a Youth Councillor serving on Garstang Youth Council, a companion group to the Town Council.

Will, (front row left), celebrates with fellow students after gaining his degree

The family had faced testing changes after his parents divorced and he, his mum and brother moved to Garstang. Then, a few years later, his mum was diagnosed with cancer. But his school. Ripley St Thomas Cof E Academy at Lancaster, encouraged Will to apply for a Foundation Year scheme at Lady Margaret Hall college in Oxford after his A'levels. The course provided a bridge between A'levels and a degree. So successful was that year he gained a place to continue his studies as as an undergraduate at Oxford and won an academic scholarship which helped to fund his law degree.

Will said: “The (Garstang) Youth Council was confidence building really. Oxford involves talking to various different people and new people and expressing your ideas - it was helpful. I’ve gone on to do voluntary stuff at Oxford. I worked with a charity called Oxford Hub.I was their Publicity Officer. I worked at Lancaster Homeless Shelter and I worked at Cancer Care on Garstang High Street. It just got me involved in the community and voluntary work generally as well.”

He believes these experiences have in turn opened new doors for him. Lynn Harter, the former Garstang Town Councillor who founded the Garstang Youth Council, said: "I'm thrilled to bits at his success. He was part of the early years of Garstang Youth Council. He has just done so well, I'm proud of him."

At Ripley St Thomas his teachers convinced him it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to apply for the foundation year at Lady Margaret Hall and helped him get advice on applying. Will said: “At sixth form I hadn’t really thought about Oxford.”

Will, (centre), pictured with his mum Angela and brother Oliver outside Lady Margaret Hall

He has since returned to his former school to talk about his experiences of Oxford, which included boxing, rowing and playing football for his college team, as well as the challenge of academic work.

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He said: “I think Oxford can be what you make it. Don’t be scared of it, don’t feel inferior because you’re from the north. There’s the image Oxford is full of posh southern people, but there are still lots of people from similar backgrounds. Oxford wants people like us to come down to make the place more diverse and I think it's important to become more diverse. It will bring new ideas in a space that's very, very traditional."

Will added: "I think Oxford just develops your critical thinking."

This summer Will gained a 2:1 in Jurisprudence (Law) and gained work experience at top international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). The firm offered him a training contract and in autumn 2022 he will be sponsored on a year long post graduate law conversion course before spending two years as a trainee solicitor.

Will, pictured at Ripley St Thomas school in Lancaster
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Meanwhile he is looking forward to spending three months in Budapest this autumn as an intern for a charity which helps migrants. He said: "It's a voluntary role. They do language classes and diversity training."

His advice for students considering applying for a degree at Oxford University is to remember that the personal statement is the first hurdle and to make sure to demonstrate a real (evidenced) interest in your subject and remember that at the interview stage the selectors are looking for someone who is "curious, friendly and not a know it all."

Will's mother Angela Kitchen, a retired maths teacher, said she and his grandmother Eileen Kitchen, also from Garstang, are very proud of his achievements .Angela said: " If it inspires a couple more people who are from a different background to try - even if they don't get in I believe it's always good to try."

She added that it was good for Ripley school to get a thank you too, as the staff had been so helpful, setting Will off on his Oxford journey She said: "I think there's a lot of youngsters put off going to Oxbridge because of not being at an independent school. I just think it might encoruage other children."

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Will pictured inside his Oxford college

* The Lady Margaret Hall Foundation Year is described on the college's website as "a one year, fully funded course for students from under-represented groups. Through a combination of academic and personal support the course enables students to fulfill their academic potential." For details of the foundation year see here The Lancashire Post is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. For unlimited access to Lancashire news and information online, you can subscribe here.

Will (right) pictured with younger brother Oliver (a former Garstang Youth Mayor and now a Town Councillor) and their grandmother Eileen Kitchen
Lady Margaret Hall