Having started in the summer of 2013 with a cohort of 12 students and 4 mentors, we are very proud of the way our organisation has continued to grow! As has been documented previously, we now have our first group of alumni, a fifth cohort on the KAN APP and, as of yesterday, a second programme in operation running a residential for the first time!

United Access launched with a bang – day one included the now traditional AAF icebreakers through drama, an inspirational talk from our good friend Nikki King, and even a chance to navigate the Caterham School High Ropes course (video well worth a look!) The balance of academic extension and an attempt to broaden the horizons of and range of experiences available to our students is a principle we will be carrying over from the KAN APP to United Access, and a session on Chaucer also went down well with our new cohort yesterday! Another principle that will be carried in to the United Access programme is the idea of partnerships – different schools and other organisations finding ways to collaborate to help to reach our ultimate shared goals – and we are delighted to be working with United Learning, Caterham School, and the six United Learning Academies who are providing the students to the programme. With our new partners at 2-3 degrees becoming the first external organisation to ‘complete the set’ so to speak by visiting their third residential for their third AAF workshop in a fortnight at Caterham today, there is a familiar feel to what is happening at United Access, combined with the excitement of something new and everything that brings! We are delighted things have started so well, and we look forward to reporting on the same short-term and long-term success that we have enjoyed through the KAN APP as time moves on…

The focus of this blog post has naturally been on developments at Caterham, given the momentous nature of day one, but the Cambridge residential continues to be excellent, and we particularly enjoyed the debating workshop with the English Speaking Union yesterday. Formulating arguments, countering arguments, and debating with those who disagree with you, while remaining coherent, well reasoned and persuasive, is a hugely transferrable skill that our students can learn from an opportunity like this, and we hope what they will have picked up or put in to practise in this workshop will stand them in good stead moving forward. New experiences, as mentioned above, are a key part of what we seek to provide, and a mentor lesson from Sian last night, based on her work with the deaf-blind charity Sense, was a hugely thought-provoking and emotive way to spend an evening, exploring methods of communication with those who cannot see or hear, and reflecting on how the lives of those in this situation may be different to our own.

The timetable continues apace through Thursday – follow Twitter for the latest updates, and we’ll be back with another blog tomorrow!