Atom Futures Fund: We’ve launched a fund to improve higher education access

18 April 2024


Team Atom
Team Atom
Student walking up path to university building

We’re delighted to announce the launch of the Atom Futures Fund, a brand new educational initiative in partnership with the County Durham Community Foundation.

The aim of the Fund is to encourage and support sixth form students from low-income backgrounds or those in the care system, and who’re based in County Durham, to apply to and attend Russell Group universities.

What does the fund offer?

The Atom Futures Fund is made up of two types of funding for students applying to and attending a Russell Group university.

£250 financial incentive for applicants

Atom Futures Fund will offer a £250 financial incentive to at least 20 eligible Year 13 students based in County Durham applying for any course at a Russell Group University. This is a flexible incentive that can be put towards various aspects of the application process, like interview preparation, travel expenses and study materials.

Applications for this part of the fund are now open on the County Durham Community Foundation website and close on 29th April.

£1,000 grant for successful Russell Group applicants

The second part of the Fund will provide a further £1,000 for applicants who have received and subsequently accepted an offer from a Russell Group University. This will help to alleviate financial pressures and facilitate a smooth transition through university life by providing top up funding in the second term of their study.

Atom bank and the Foundation will award a minimum of five of these grants each year, starting in August 2024.

Why is the Atom Futures Fund so important?

The North East is the region of England with the highest percentage of students eligible for free school meals ( Additionally, it also has a concentration of lower levels of opportunity for young people to access employment and fulfil their potential.

It’s little wonder then that the North East has lower levels of post 16 attainment at school and lower levels of progression to higher education. This results in poorer social and economic opportunities for young people in the region than in other parts of the country. This is particularly true for those in care or from lower income backgrounds.

Research has shown that access to higher education — especially to research-intensive universities like the Russell Group — is a key driver of social mobility (Sutton Trust). Young people from low-income backgrounds who attend university are more likely to earn more compared to non-graduates from the same background.

The measurable benefit of a university education, which often seems unrealistic for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, means the opportunities offered by the Atom Futures Fund are potentially life-changing. And that’s why we believe that it has such a vital role to play in nurturing talent and driving prosperity in County Durham and across the North East.

Let’s hear from the key people

Edward Twiddy, Director of ESG here at Atom, said: “Attending a Russell Group University provides many young people with a future rich in opportunities and the best chance of fulfilling their potential. But too many talented children from low-income backgrounds or growing up in care aren’t getting these chances, and this is especially true in the North East where outcomes and opportunities for young people are amongst the poorest in the UK.

“We can’t solve all the disparities between the most and the least fortunate, but as one of the largest and fastest growing employers in the North East, we want Atom bank to be at the forefront of driving sustainable economic growth within the community, while unashamedly developing talented individuals who can join our growing workforce. Through the Fund and other initiatives, we aim to break down some of the barriers that growing up in poverty or in care can put in front of young people, and in doing so help foster excellence in our region.”

Michelle Cooper, CEO at County Durham Community Foundation said: “We know that poverty steals opportunities and restricts futures. Children and young people living in poverty are much less likely to access opportunities in education, and much less likely to have the means to take advantage of those opportunities should they present themselves.

“With this new fund, Atom bank is actively working to create brighter futures for the youngsters of County Durham, enabling them to fulfil their ambitions and their potential. We’re delighted to partner with Atom bank on the Atom Futures Fund and look forward to seeing the fund’s impact over the coming years.”

Building on our programme of support for young people

The Atom Futures Fund continues to build upon our support for young people in the North East. Through this programme, we’re encouraging participation and providing opportunities for further education and employment.

Other key developments in the programme have included:

These initiatives are all part of our wider mission to increase opportunities for local people, drive diversity in the sector and find the next generation of leaders.

Want to hear more about early career opportunities at Atom? Make sure to check the Atom blog, where we’ll share the latest news and updates. You can also head over to our careers page to discover employment opportunities at our bank.