Bridges to Birkbeck: free workshops and HE advice in Tottenham

In mid August we checked out a free workshop on Community Development run by Birkbeck University in conjunction with Haringey Council at the 639 Enterprise Centre. We spoke to the Head of Widening Access and Retention at Birkbeck, Caroline McDonald, and Haringey Council’s Tottenham Outreach Officer, Faith Williams, to find out more about the project and what’s on offer for local Tottenham residents.

Caroline McDonaldAs Head of Widening Access and Retention at Birkbeck, Caroline is responsible for identifying under-represented groups and areas in higher education and at Birkbeck and is responsible for increasing the opportunities and number of students from these backgrounds at the University. She is involved in developing annual events and activities that ensure that people interested in HE are given these opportunities.

As Tottenham Outreach worker, Faith is responsible for the day to day running of the Bridges to Birkbeck project in Tottenham.


What is the Bridges to Birkbeck project?

Caroline: Building Bridges to Birkbeck comprises a series of ongoing free lectures from Birkbeck academics to inspire Tottenham residents to consider university-level study. Based in the 639 High Road Enterprise Centre in Tottenham, the programme includes a series of workshops designed to inspire, engage and challenge participants to give them an idea of what higher education is like and how it can play a critical role in supporting people to achieve their career ambitions.

Lectures, professional guest speakers and career planning workshops will take place alongside UCAS application advice to support prospective students with the application process and personal statement.

The curriculum on offer in Tottenham will initially be linked to business – in line with the initiative’s aim to improve career prospects, transferable skills and entrepreneurship in the borough – before broadening out to other subjects. It is designed to be a gradual introduction to university-level study, helping prospective undergraduate students to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding that they will need to perform well in higher education.

How did it start in Tottenham?

Building Bridges to Birkbeck is part of our wider partnership with Haringey Council which we established in 2015 to help meet the aspirations of people living and working in the Tottenham area. There are lots of exciting developments taking place in the area and this unique partnership aims to complement the regeneration of the Tottenham by offering educational and career pathways.

How did you end up working with Haringey council, specifically the Tottenham area and the 639 Enterprise Centre?

Haringey approached Birkbeck after seeing the work we had delivered in Stratford – to bring higher education learning activities to a local community. Tottenham has an ambitious and impressive regeneration strategy which includes offering a variety of learning opportunities for its residents.

639 was a critical focal point during the riots five years ago. The council has refurbished the building to be an inclusive and multi partner building housing support and opportunities for local residents and Birkbeck is one of those.

What can attendees expect from Bridges to Birkbeck?

Attendees at the Building Bridges to Birkbeck series can expect to experience engaging workshops, lectures and tasters, which have been designed with the knowledge that  a commitment to study is difficult for people to do.

This is why we have designed a whole series of toe-dipping experiences which support people into taking a step towards discovering and following their educational goals.

Are there any key upcoming events that our reader’s should know about?

The programme at 639 High Road Enterprise Centre in Tottenham comprises the following activities:

Tottenham Perks coffee mornings: On Tuesday mornings, between 9.30 and 11.30am, the Tottenham Perks coffee morning enables local residents to set the agenda on what workshops, lectures and taster sessions they would like to see to explore what university is like and how to get there from where they are now. Free refreshments are available from the Blooming Scent Café.

Learner’s Lounge: On Wednesdays, the learner’s lounge is run between 4-6.30pm with different themes each week around building skills and to improve lifestyle.  We offer the opportunity to benefit from a drop-in service to chat with staff from Birkbeck who can answer questions about how to go about further study.

Future Focus: On the fourth Wednesday of the month, we offer one-to-one careers advice and support residents in developing a career plan to enable them to meet their goals.

Birkbeck Big Ideas: On the second Wednesday of every month, academics from across Birkbeck’s five schools will deliver insightful lectures on their areas of research. Presentations will cover a wide range of topics including a look at what causes autism, why teenagers often feel paranoid and examining Russia’s takeover of the Crimea.

How would you like to see the project develop?

Faith: I would like to see this project expand its services within Haringey and beyond. Universities and councils should create partnership projects like this to meet the needs of the community.

What do you most enjoy and like about the programme?

I was born and raised in Tottenham and was the first person out of my peers and family to go to university. I’m very aware of some of the barriers to education still present in Tottenham regarding accessing HE especially for mature students. I really enjoy breaking down some of those barriers, demystifying myths and presenting opportunities. Every person who learns something new, reaches a personal millstone or signs up to university through this work is an achievement.


Part of the University of London, Birkbeck was created 200 years ago to provide university education for working Londoners. With their main campus in Bloomsbury, WC1, and a second campus in Stratford, they are London’s only specialist provider of evening higher education. With classes held between 6pm and 9pm, students days are free for study, work, volunteering, or just to do their own thing.

Full details of Building Bridges to Birkbeck programme of events can be found here:

Find out more information on the 639 Enterprise Centre and Somewhereto here:


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