The Sutton Trust partners with a range of employers and organisations to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access job opportunities and overcome any barriers they face as they progress through their education and into their chosen career.

Throughout 2021, we enjoyed a particularly special partnership with Brick Court Chambers, who we were thrilled to partner with during their celebratory centenary year. Our Senior Development Officer, Genevieve Widger, looks back on a brilliantly successful year of fundraising, awareness raising and direct support of beneficiaries. 

The challenge: setting an ambitious fundraising target in the middle of the pandemic 

When we got the call from Brick Court Chambers in autumn 2020 announcing that they intended to fundraise £100,000 for the Sutton Trust and a further £150,00 for three other amazing charities (IntoUniversity, Advocate and the Access to Justice Foundation), it is safe to say we felt a combination of emotions. Incredible excitement and gratitude – yes. But also a touch of disbelief – after all, the pandemic was approaching its worst peak in England and a long, dreary January lockdown would be just around the corner. How would it be possible to deliver on all the fundraising events and activities they had planned given the restrictions and a context of such uncertainty?  

However, with the brilliant Fionn Pilbrow QC and Paul Gray leading Brick Court’s centenary committee, we soon realised that they meant business and were serious about coming good on their generous pledge. Pandemic or not, this was Brick Court’s centenary year. Alongside celebrating their 100 years, it would be the perfect moment to reflect on the role they can play in addressing wider societal problems, including improving the range of opportunities open to young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Brick Court made a conscious choice to seek to contribute not simply to improving access to the Bar, but to improving access to higher education, to the workplace and to the professions more generally – hence they came to talk to us and to fellow centenary charity partner IntoUniversity.  

From dragon boat racing to a wedding: Brick Court get stuck in 

Members of Brick Court got involved in an extensive and thrilling array of fundraising events including: dragon boat racing with client firm teams, the London landmarks run, treks along Hadrian’s Wall and the London bridges, a legal/musical quiz hosted by Tony Hawks and a summer fete in the beautiful Middle Temple Gardens (think barristers running the egg and spoon race in their wigs and splat the wet sponge on the judge!). We also had members donating billable hours and supporting colleagues’ challenges as well as fundraising themselves. Perhaps most touchingly of all, there was a Brick Court wedding where the couple generously requested that their guests donate towards the centenary challenge in place of purchasing gifts. The warmth and positivity that the centenary brought to Brick Court was infectious and there truly was an event or a challenge for everyone.  

Alongside their impressive fundraising efforts, what we valued so much about the partnership was that the team brought the same enthusiasm to engaging critically with the conversation around social mobility and raising awareness of our cause amongst both members and clients alike. With IntoUniversity, we were able to put on a ‘Meet the CEO’ event, contribute to a social mobility panel and inspire a series of four social mobility podcasts featuring several fantastic speakers.  

Getting directly involved in supporting students on the Trust’s Pathways to Law programme was another facet of our partnership. In October, Brick Court pulled some strings and organised a seriously unforgettable work experience placement for a group of our students which included a public speaking crash course, a visit to the Supreme Court and sessions with Supreme Court justices and High Court judges. The feedback we received from the students was exceptional across the board, with one student commenting: “I feel like I know so much more about the process of becoming a barrister, what it entails, what they do, how to achieve it, their daily life and the various ways we can reach that job.”

We look forward to continuing to host these placements with them this year, and into the future. 

The legacy of Brick Court’s centenary year 

Of course, thanks to a hugely successful year of fundraising – Brick Court smashed their target and raised an unbelievable £312,000 overall – the impact of their support will reach many more students. The funds will be used across our suite of programmes to directly improve access to higher education and competitive careers for young people from low-income households. The need for this kind of funding has never been more crucial as we continue to scale up our programmes and navigate the full implications of the pandemic, which our research shows has had a worsening effect on the UK’s already critical social mobility challenge.  

Looking back, it is hard not to feel inspired by the positivity and enthusiasm that exuded from everyone we engaged with at chambers. The centenary challenge and the causes of each of our charities was something that everybody (including Brick Court’s clients!) could rally behind and we, in turn, were delighted to be able to work collaboratively with three other fantastic organisations doing very important work. Their centenary year may be over, but Brick Court’s legacy of support will be felt for a long time to come. And having discussed ongoing plans with them, we sincerely look forward to the future and continuing to work together to champion social mobility!  

Brick Court’s Fionn Pilbrow QC also shared his reflections on our partnership:  

“When we were thinking about our centenary – celebrating our past – we were clear that we also wanted to be thinking about the future. Not just of us, as a Chambers, but of the world around us and of the society in which we all live. Hence we turned to the Sutton Trust and IntoUniversity – two wonderful charities doing fabulous work trying to improve and promote social mobility in our society, and trying to ensure that those young people who don’t presently have access to higher education and the workplace are given the opportunity to have that access. And having turned to them, we were delighted with the response we got! (As lawyers, we couldn’t completely overlook the needs within the legal sector, and so were delighted also to work with, and to fundraise for, Advocate and the Access to Justice Foundation).  

We greatly enjoyed working with the team at the Sutton Trust, learning more about what they are doing, raising funds for them, and helping them with the work they do (through work placements, training session, talks and presentations, hosting a panel discussion and so much more). It is difficult now to say what was better – the joy of working with the enthusiastic and knowledgeable team at the Sutton Trust or meeting (and being very impressed by) the students in their programmes. We consider our centenary year – and our centenary link-up with our charities, including Sutton Trust – to have been a great success, and we thank them for that. We look forward to continuing to work with the Sutton Trust, and helping them in their excellent work, over the years to come.” 

With special thanks to Fionn Pilbrow QC, Paul Gray, Mary Dobson Smith, Lyana Peniston and both heads of chambers, Mark Howard QC and Helen Davies QC . We are so grateful for all of your hard work and incredible support.  

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