A North East building society is leading the way in forging a partnership with a national movement aimed at inspiring young women to reach their full potential.

The Girls’ Network – which brings together female role models to mentor 14 to 19-year-old girls – expanded into Tees Valley this summer.

And Darlington Building Society has become a “cornerstone” partner, supplying more volunteers than any other organisation in the area.

Ten female members of staff at the Society have become fully trained mentors since July, with more in the pipeline.

The mentors include Jessica Williams, a non-executive director with the Society and managing director of Stockton-based outsourcing company, Just Williams.

Jessica said: “Darlington Building Society always has its finger on the pulse when it comes to local community projects, and it is testament to the culture of the Society that so many female members of staff have come forward for this exciting voluntary opportunity with The Girls’ Network.

“What I really love about this programme is that it will have an impact over the longer-term, and I feel blessed to be part of something making a real difference.”

The Girls’ Network began in London and Sussex but has spread across eight regions. It became established in the north of the region three years ago and is now growing rapidly in the Tees Valley.

The year-long mentoring and work experience programme, supports 1,200 girls a year nationwide, and nearly 100 professional women have already become Tees Valley mentors.

Just under 60 girls are being mentored in the current term with hopes that another 60 will be added when the Spring term begins. Monthly mentoring meetings have been virtual so far but will become face to face when it is safe to do so.

After completing the mentoring programme, the girls become Girls’ Network ambassadors, ensuring that the scheme is sustainable, and its impact continues to grow.

Niki Barker, Director, People and Culture for Darlington Building Society, is also a mentor on the scheme, supporting a 17-year-old girl called Erin, who has ambitions to be an engineer.

Niki said: “Our staff are so committed to each other, and to others outside of the Society, so this was a perfect match. It’s a fantastic way of empowering the next generation of females to fulfil their aspirations, and the uptake of staff becoming volunteers has been a joy to see.

“We have a passion for the people we employ, as well as the communities we serve, and I have no doubt that this is the first step in a long-term relationship between the Society and The Girls’ Network. We want to invest in generations to come, and it’s mutually beneficial because the volunteers learn so much from it, along with the girls being mentored.

“It even has the potential to help shape the thinking behind new products the Society may introduce in future for the younger demographic.”

An internal network has been established to enable the Society’s mentors to share good practice, and there are plans to deliver a financial education workshop as part of a suite of Girls’ Network training sessions.

In addition, the Society is looking to offer work experience to the girls being mentored by its staff in 2021.

Krishna Hathi, Head of Programme for The Girls’ Network, “It’s amazing to have such a high level of support from an organisation like Darlington Building Society that is so embedded in the community and aligned with what we are trying to achieve.”

Rosalind Stuart, Network Manager for The Girls’ Network in the Tees Valley, added: “Thanks to employers like Darlington Building Society, the move into the Tees Valley has been a huge success so far, with a wonderfully diverse group of volunteers, and we look forward to building on that momentum.”

This latest commitment by Darlington Building Society to invest in the future follows its decision to appoint the first apprentices in its 164-year history, with eight young people starting in customer service roles in September.