After a short summer hiatus, we’re back with the next guest blog from our leadership team. This comes from Estelle Hollingsworth, Chief People Officer. Estelle joined Virgin Atlantic in 2018 with over 25 years of Human Resources experience and is passionate about delivering brilliantly different experiences for our people.

Using our business as a force for good is at the heart of everything we do, whether that be for our people, for the planet or for the communities in which we serve. To achieve our purpose – everyone can take on the world – and our vision – to be the world’s most loved travel company – we are making an unwavering commitment to investing in the hearts and minds of young people who will define the future.

To us, our people are so much more than a role, and our customers are much more than those who simply fly with us. They are part of what we do, why we exist and what we stand for, and we want to make a positive change to their lives; their children’s lives; and the communities they live in. I feel immensely proud to work for a company that invests in this area, knowing that our customers choose to fly with airlines who genuinely make a difference to the world, and our people want to work for a company that genuinely does good.

We first outlined our commitments to supporting our local communities back in 2019 by launching the Passport to Change programme, which had a clear vision from the start. To increase aspirations for young people in our communities and inspire them to consider careers in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics). Our primary focus for the programme initially was partnering with schools in the communities that we operate from, in order to prepare students with the skills they need for the future.

We know there’s a huge gender gap in STEM and that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately impacted, so our focus has always been on closing the gap between majority and minority groups, and creating opportunities to address inequality in educational learning.

As a mum to three inquisitive children, I’m immensely proud of Passport to Change and the enhancements we are announcing to the programme today. The core mission remains that we use Passport to Change to inspire young people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – to look at STEM subjects with wonder and amazement and consider careers in areas they might not have thought would be ‘for them’. We want to inspire them to feel fully informed when making career decisions, that work brings enjoyment and that their role in a company can make a real difference. In doing so, we close the equity gap by providing opportunities for social mobility so no child is left behind. I also feel incredibly passionate about closing the gender gap through this programme. 

Sophie Kelly (Technical Operations Engineer) in the flight deck

By starting the conversation early on with young girls and giving them the confidence to explore STEM subjects, we will bridge the gap by inspiring the next generation of female pilots, engineers, technology leaders and innovators, equipping them to earn more and achieve more upon entering the world of work. Through the new combined model of direct school engagement, grants and scholarships, the positive changes we have made to the Passport to Change programme ahead of its relaunch today will create transformative change for our communities, with lasting impact on their young people’s aspirations, education and career choices.

And with that, I’m delighted to announce our three new charity partners through which we’ll deliver the programme:-

Speakers for Schools

Set up by ITV's political editor, Robert Peston, in 2010, Speakers for Schools aims to end educational inequality by giving all young people access to the same prestigious networks available to top fee-paying schools.

We have worked closely with their team to design a yearlong programme of learning in aviation, consisting of 25,000 learning hours of inspiring talks, interactive activities, and mentoring, through both online and in-person events.

This charity has a virtual platform with safeguarding measures already in place to enable us to deliver classroom experiences, either virtually or in person.  They also offer additional modules such as work experience, career inspiration talks & employability skills workshops in line with Gatsby Benchmarks (linking curriculum learning to careers).

Our 12-month programme of aviation learning will reach 384 students from our partner schools in Crawley (Thomas Bennett Community College), Swansea (Pentrehafod School) and Atlanta, Georgia (Luther J Price Middle School). From January 2022, the programme will be extended to include approximately 280 more students from chosen schools near Heathrow & Manchester.

The Smallpeice Trust

Founded in 1966, The Smallpeice Trust  focuses on advancing young people’s engagement with STEM, particularly Engineering.


The UN Refugee Agency was established in 1950 and is the leading global agency to protect people fleeing conflict and persecution.

Through our partnership, we’ll bring STEM engagement to young refugees in the destinations we fly to; for our first year, our focus will be in Delhi. Our people can provide expert briefing and field visits and attend virtual graduation ceremonies as part of the programme.

The Virgin Atlantic Foundation will support young refugees in Delhi through a number of ways, including; accelerated learning programmes (incl. language and STEM subjects), basic computing / Hindi / English classes, increased admissions to secondary schools and the National Institute of Open Schooling, the provision of electronic devices for online education and virtual classes, and the establishment of digital library and learning centres in three community centres in Delhi.

Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic CEO, speaking to students at Crawley’s Thomas Bennett Community College in February 2020

The first Passport to Change event will be taking place on 29th September for a virtual gathering – facilitated by Speakers for Schools – of students from our partner schools and our Virgin Atlantic volunteers. To stay up to date with the latest news on our Passport to Change programme, follow me on LinkedIn or visit our website