This school motivated me through obstacles says former student

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Burgess Hill Girls School welcomed a former student to share their success story at an open day.

Funke Abimbola MBE, who studied at the school from 1986 to 1991, is now a lawyer and a voice for diversity up and down the country.

She spoke of the challenges and determination to reach her aspirations on September 30.

Liz Laybourn, headteacher at the school, was encouraged to hear the story of a former student.

She said: “Funke is living proof of what a Burgess Hill Girls alumna can achieve.

“When life has put obstacles in her path, she has hung on to that incredible sense of self-belief and determination and overcome them, time after time.

“We always believed Funke was destined for great things, and how right we were.

“It has been a privilege to have provided support and encouragement during her formative years, and it is thrilling to hear that the ethos of the school, and the school community, has had such a powerful impact on her life.”

The motivational speaker came from a medical family with a father who insisted she joined the Burgess Hill School as a boarder to become a doctor.

But Funke’s dream was to pursue a career in law.

After talks between the school and her father she began working towards understanding the legal system.

And now she is the most senior black solicitor for Roche’s pharmaceutical operations in the UK, Ireland, Gibraltar and Malta.

Mrs Abimbola says: “The school really motivated me through many obstacles in my life to overcome struggles and to realise success was mine and what success could look like for me.

“Let me tell you, when my dad saw English literature, economics and history on the A-level options form all hell broke loose.

“The school, including the current head Liz Laybourn, played a key role in persuading my dad the school had not corrupted his daughter but had unlocked that potential in me and discovered very early on where my strengths lay and were prepared to fight my corner.”

The MBE studied for the Nigerian Bar. When she came back to the UK it was difficult for her to get her foot on the legal ladder.

She added: “I was sending off my CV and getting absolutely nowhere.

“I became aware of discrimination, something we would call unconscious cultural bias now.

“It’s not blatant, but the fact I had an obviously African name was a real issue for law firms at the time.

“I cold-called every single firm. I was only in my early 20s, but that boldness came once again from knowing that I could do it, and I had people willing me on from school.

“There have never been any guarantees along the way, but coming to this school gave me the boldness, the courage, the sense of identity about who I am, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

“I can truly look back and say, I am probably half way up that mountain. I have a few more heights I would like to scale!”

This year, Funke was awarded her MBE for services to diversity in the legal profession and to young people.