Holly Branson's #Back2School Blog

Image from Virgin

Image from Virgin

Holly Branson


#Back2School: You are far too important to suffer in silence

When I was younger I attended two small all-girls schools, and then in sixth form I moved to a mixed boarding school. I absolutely loved school and made many life-long friends, but like so many young people, there was a period where I experienced bullying.

When I was 10-years-old I was a real tomboy, and a girl in my class started calling me a lesbian. I had no idea what the word meant, so I went home and asked my parents. They explained, comforted me and reinforced that whoever I am is just right as long as I’m comfortable in my own skin, but that bullying of any form is unacceptable. They then let the school know. The school dealt with the issue wonderfully – the bullying was stopped in its tracks, the issue was resolved, and the girl and I actually became good friends.I hadn’t experienced someone being unkind before, so realising that people aren’t always nice was a hard lesson to learn. Despite going through such an unpleasant ordeal, I consider myself to be lucky. So many people are bullied to such an extent that the effects linger for years after the torment has stopped.

I was able to resolve my situation quickly, before too much damage was done, by making sure I told others about what I was going through. My advice, for anyone being bullied, is to do the same. Make sure you tell someone. Never feel embarrassed about it. Never stay silent – you are far too important to suffer in silence. Get help.

It might come as a surprise, but I wouldn’t change anything about my time at school. It is often through the most challenging times that we learn the most about ourselves. I look back at school fondly – it can be a wonderful place to learn and grow.

It certainly was for me. During my schooling, there were a number of memorable moments that shaped me as a person and had a positive influence on my life. I had a brilliant chemistry teacher who grew my love of the sciences. I wasn’t particularly academic, but she consistently reinforced the belief that I was capable of fulfilling my dream of becoming a doctor if I kept working and trying hard. With her encouragement, science fast became my favourite subject. I will be forever grateful for the time and effort she bestowed on me. I left school with the firm belief I was able to achieve anything I set my mind to.

I was fortunate on so many counts – I had wonderfully supportive parents, friends and teachers – however I understand that this is not the case for everyone. There are too many young people who feel undervalued, unsupported and unable to reach their full potential. Realising this, after graduating,,I joined up with my brother Sam and some friends to start our charity foundation Big Change.

By finding and incubating high potential projects and connecting powerful ideas – essentially a social impact accelerator – Big Change is driven to help young people develop a growth mindset so that they can thrive in life, not just in exams. One of the ways we fundraise to support these initiatives is through the Virgin Strive Challenge – which I’m currently undertaking alongside my family and an inspiring group of people. An ultra-endurance event that will see us travel from the base of the Matterhorn in Switzerland to the summit of Mount Etna in southern Italy, entirely under human power, the Virgin Strive Challenge aims to prove: growth happens when you step out of your comfort zone, and the extraordinary can happen when you do it with others. 

It saddens me to see that bullying is still happening in schools – some 25 years after I experienced it myself – however with a supportive network and a growth mindset in place, young people have the ability to push past the difficult times and achieve great things.

For more information about the work we are doing through Big Change visit the website, or follow #weStrive on social channels.

If you know someone who’s being bullied or are experiencing bullying yourself, I urge you to visit The Diana Award website for support and guidance. The Diana Award and their #Back2School campaign are doing amazing work in the anti-bullying space.