Victoria Azubuike

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Eleanor Bentall

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Victoria Azubuike estimates her project has reached at least 600 teenage girls

A woman who sold cakes as a child to buy herself Christmas presents is teaching girls from disadvantaged backgrounds “how to dream”.

A leadership programme set up by Victoria Azubuike, 24, has reached about 600 state school pupils in London and is now touring other cities.

Ms Azubuike, from Islington, came up with the idea while studying at the University of Warwick.

“You see girls completely transform,” she said.

Ms Azubuike grew up on the Stock Orchard council estate, with four siblings and her mother, who moved to the UK from Nigeria.

“Growing up things were very difficult… we came from a very low income household,” she said.

At the age of eight, Ms Azubuike decided she needed to start making her own money.

“A lot of our weekends were spent selling cakes on our estates… We would save money until Christmas and divide it between ourselves to buy nice presents,” she said.

Aspiring to go to university and encouraged by her mother, Ms Azubuike devoted herself to her studies.

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Victoria Azubuike

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Victoria Azubuike came up with an idea to pitch a leadership event to disadvantaged girls when she was studying at Warwick

She was accepted on a foundation year at the University of Warwick and, surrounded for the first time by privately educated students, became frustrated at the lack of young women she could relate to.

“It really made me realise how some people were not able to have the same opportunities as others because of their socio-economic backgrounds,” said Ms Azubuike.

Attending a professional women panel discussion set up by a university consulting society gave her a flash of inspiration.

“I realised I wanted to bring some kind of similar conference or event back to my community,” said Ms Azubuike.

In 2015, while still studying, she organised an event for teenage girls at St Mary’s youth club, Islington, featuring women who had overcome barriers to success.

She expected a handful of people to turn up, but 115 came from all over the capital.

Since then, her Us Programme has expanded to reach hundreds more disadvantaged 15 to 19 year olds, delivering leadership skills and networking opportunities.

The scheme has toured to Leeds and Manchester and will be in Birmingham in Saturday.

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Victoria Azubuike

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The Us programme is organised by a group of volunteers

Emmanuella Zoe, 16, from Croydon, started attending events after spotting an ad on social media, and said she was challenged to “overcome my shyness to present on a topic I knew nothing about”.

“Although it was scary it allowed me to assess my strengths and weaknesses, see how I can develop. It is an amazing environment to be in, it is like a family.”

Ms Azubuike herself is about to start her first full-time job, in advertising.

“It’s about teaching girls how to dream,” said Ms Azubuike. “(I want to) really show them that their start in life doesn’t have to be the final destination.”

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