Rebecca Nicholson: ‘I benefited from social mobility – and I still feel like a permanent outsider’

Sutton Trust Summer School alumnus, Rebecca Nicholson, discuss the challenges of becoming socially mobile in an article for the Guardian.

few years ago, I interviewed Nicola Roberts, the best member of Girls Aloud, to talk about her underrated debut solo album Cinderella’s Eyes. She discussed what it was like to be on Popstars: The Rivals, the TV singing competition that predated The X Factor and gave birth to the band. What stood out most to me was how it felt for her to ricochet between two worlds. She was 16 and split her time between TV studios in London, and hanging out at the chippie in her home town of Runcorn. She remembered being taken to a fancy dinner at an expensive restaurant where none of the girls could understand the menu. She had to ask the head of Universal Records: “What the fuck’s coriander?”

It doesn’t take much to get me on to Girls Aloud, but I thought of that particular anecdote when I saw the State of the Nation report by the Social Mobility Commission this week. Its findings are a sobering confirmation of what is apparent to anyone whose world is not centred on London or the slim area surrounding it. Social divisions are deeply entrenched in British society, and social mobility, this notion that you can be born “disadvantaged” and step outside of such circumstances given the right opportunities, increasingly looks about as achievable as the UK’s chances of walking away from the EU without self-destructing in the process. Alienation and resentment are growing, and for rural, coastal and formerly industrial areas in particular, the outlook is grim.


I was born into a working-class family in north Lincolnshire, an area of the UK that, according to the Social Mobility Commission’s map, is a concentration of what it calls “cold spots”. The report ranks 324 local authorities in order of their chances of social mobility; where I grew up, the areas range from 165th on the list to 309th (17 of the top 20 are in London). I was the first in my family to get A-levels, and then the first to go to university. A scheme set up with the explicit aim of improving social mobility directly changed the course of my life: the Sutton Trust paid for me to attend a summer school in Oxford to get some experience of what university life was like. In that sense, it actively replicated hereditary privilege and stood in for what might have been passed down to me by relatives, say, if university had been a family tradition.


Find the full article here.

Read more about our summer schools here and more information on our alumni here.

2017-12-14T08:59:34+00:00November 30th, 2017|Categories: In the News|

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