Virgin Atlantic pledges to contribute £2.5million over five years to support STEM initiatives through customer donations

  • Virgin Atlantic pledges £2.5 million through customer donations over five years to support science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) initiatives for young people
  • STEM charity partners include Speakers for Schools, The Smallpeice Trust and UK for UNHCR (charity partner to the UN Refugee Agency)
  • The airline’s community programme, Passport to Change, aims to increase young people’s engagement with STEM and encourages skills needed for future careers

Today, Virgin Atlantic has pledged £2.5 million over five years to support STEM initiatives with grants, sponsorships and investments through its Passport to Change programme. Working with new charity partners, Speakers for Schools, The Smallpeice Trust and UK for UNHCR, the airline’s community programme aims to inspire and empower young people from all corners of society to engage with STEM education and build career skills for the future in science, technology, engineering, and maths.

Designed to empower the next generation to fulfil their potential through education, the relaunched Passport to Change programme will provide access to STEM learning for young people through a combined model of direct school engagement, grants and scholarships.

The ambition of the Passport to Change programme is to grow its presence across destinations and, through charity partnerships, encourage social mobility and close the difference between the majority and minority groups, creating opportunities to address inequity in educational learning.

Estelle Hollingsworth, Chief People Officer, Virgin Atlantic, commented:

“At Virgin Atlantic, our purpose is to empower everyone to take on the world and our vision is to be the world’s most loved travel company. To achieve both, we must invest in the hearts and minds of young people who will define our future.

“Our Passport to Change programme is how we at Virgin Atlantic use our business as a force for good, through our communities, our people, and our partners.

“We know there is a huge gender gap in STEM, and that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately impacted. By working with our incredible new charity partners Speakers for Schools, The Smallpeice Trust and UK for UNHCR, we can reach, educate and empower young people from all parts of society to engage with STEM education, driving real change in the communities where we work and where we fly.”

Virgin Atlantic has teamed up with Speakers for Schools, a charity aiming to end educational inequality and level the playing field for all young people. As part of the collaboration, this pioneering year-long programme has been created to ensure young people from its three partner schools - Thomas Bennett Community College in Crawley, Pentrehafod School in Swansea and Luther J Price Middle School in Atlanta - see the entire breadth of the aviation industry. Across the ten months of the full programme, students will be engaged through a mixture of in-person and online events with modules showcasing what happens behind the scenes of an airline, how planes fly, as well as exploring sustainable aviation and decarbonisation. It is estimated that the economic benefit to communities served is over £29 million over the lifetime of the young people who have utilised the programme. Over time, the ambition is to increase the network of partner schools across the UK and international communities, bringing the programme to a wider audience of young people.

Jason Elsom, Chief Executive Officer, Speakers for Schools added: “We are proud to partner with Virgin Atlantic for this first-of-its-kind immersive programme, allowing young people to experience every aspect of the aviation industry with such an iconic brand.  "Passport to Change" will open the door for young people to an exciting industry and meet the experts leading the way at Virgin Atlantic.”

Virgin Atlantic is also working with STEM-based educational expert partner, The Smallpeice Trust, using its educational resources to focus on increasing student engagement in STEM subjects, in particular engineering. In turn, Virgin Atlantic will sponsor scholars in The Smallpeice Trust’s Arkwright Scholarship programme and sponsor a short residential programme in 2022, which explores the world of STEM.

Caroline Broadway, Director of Engagement, The Smallpeice Trust commented:

“Virgin Atlantic’s Passport to Change activities will inspire more young people to find a passion for STEM, while helping all those involved gain life and leadership skills. Working in partnership we can increase the diversity and number of young people entering engineering careers.”

Further to its partnership with The Smallpeice Trust and Speakers for Schools, Virgin Atlantic has teamed up with UK for UNHCR to protect and empower refugees through the humanitarian work of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. UNHCR protects people fleeing conflict and persecution around the world, and helps them to access education and livelihoods so they can rebuild their lives. Throughout 2021 and 2022, Virgin Atlantic will support 2,000 young refugees in Delhi, including young, displaced Afghans, with an accelerated learning programme before expanding the partnership to support university STEM scholarships for refugees around the world.

Emma Cherniavsky, Chief Executive of UK for UNHCR, said: “We are delighted to be one of Virgin Atlantic’s Passport to Change charity partners. Refugees face many barriers to accessing education, with just five per cent of refugees enrolled in higher education. Investing in a refugee’s education supports not only their personal learning and job prospects, but also their wider community. Funds raised through the programme will have a lasting impact.” 

For further press information please contact the Virgin Atlantic press office on or call 01293 747373.          

Notes to editors:    

About Virgin Atlantic       

Virgin Atlantic was founded by entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson 37 years ago with innovation and customer service at its core. In 2021, Virgin Atlantic was voted Britain’s only Global Five Star Airline by APEX for the fifth year running in the Official Airline Ratings as well as receiving Diamond status, the highest possible standard by APEX and Simpliflying for delivering the highest standards of cleanliness and demonstrating an unwavering commitment to keeping our customers and teams safe. Headquartered in London, Virgin Atlantic and its holiday business, Virgin Atlantic Holidays, employs over 5,700 people worldwide, serving 27 destinations across four continents. Sustainability remains central to the airline and in September 2019, Virgin Atlantic took delivery of its first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft - helping to transform the fleet into one of the quietest and most fuel efficient in the sky. By 2022, the airline will operate a streamlined fleet of 37 twin engine aircraft following the retirement of its 747s and A332s, and its simplified fleet will be 10% more efficient than before the Covid-19 crisis.        

Alongside shareholder and Joint Venture partner Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic operates a leading transatlantic network between the UK and US with onward connections to over 200 US and international cities. On 3 February 2020, Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic received approval from the US DOT to launch an expanded trans-Atlantic joint venture, offering a comprehensive route network, convenient flight schedules, competitive fares and reciprocal frequent flyer benefits, including the ability to earn and redeem miles across all carriers.          

For more information visit or, Twitter and Instagram @virginatlantic @virginholidays       

About Speakers for Schools involvement with Passport to Change:

The pioneering Speakers for Schools programme, Passport to Change, is destined to deliver a difference, by design.

Speakers for Schools has made estimations on the economic benefit to communities based on its impact. Its evaluation includes 576 UK based participants expected to graduate from the 2021/22 programme, a future impact of 144 more young people going into a higher destination - a net increase of 25%. 95 more females choosing a STEM based higher destination - a proportion of 33%, 161disadvantaged young people progressing to a higher destination and £29,157,120 of economic benefit to the communities it serves over the lifetime of the young people impacted through the Passport to Change programme.

Thanks to partnerships with the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), Speakers for Schools can chart the journeys of its UK participants for up to five years beyond the programme completion. This will help to understand the lasting impact on their aspirations, education and career choices.

About The Smallpeice Trust

Founded in 1966 by a self-taught engineer, Dr Cosby Smallpeice, The Smallpeice Trust is a vibrant educational charity that is passionate about engaging eight- to 18-year-olds in STEM subjects and to take up careers in engineering.

About UK for UNHCR

UK for UNHCR is the UN Refugee Agency’s national charity partner for the UK, building solidarity and raising funds to protect refugees worldwide through UNHCR’s work.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. Thanks to voluntary contributions from our UK supporters and partnerships, UNHCR teams can deliver life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. UNHCR also works to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality.

UK for UNHCR is a registered charity in England and Wales (registered charity number 1183415). Learn more at