LIFT OFF delivers the Scottish Funding Council’s national Schools for Higher Education Programme (SHEP) in Fife and Tayside.

We are a widening access initiative that supports young people from local secondary schools into Higher Education; that’s any course from a HNC to a Degree.

We work with S3 – S6 pupils throughout Fife, Dundee and Angus.

Our objective is to increase our target pupils’ aspirations and support their transition into Higher Education destinations.

In doing so we aim to:
  • Increase progression rates to Higher Education (HE) and other positive destinations for target pupils.
  • Raise awareness of opportunities to access Higher Education.
  • Raise aspiration to Higher Education.
  • Enter into agreements with partners to support achievement of aims.
  • Work with partners to develop an inspiring programme of activity.

As a partnership organisation, LIFT OFF works alongside all the Higher Education providers and local authorities in the Fife and Tayside region. Our immediate partners are outlined below:

Infographic listing LIFT OFF Partners. Higher Education providers: Abertay University, Dundee & Angus College, Fife College, SRUC, The Open University, University of Dundee & University of St. Andrews. Local Authority: Angus Council, Dundee City Council & Fife Council. Practitioners: Skills Development Scotland

LIFT OFF is also supported by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) outwith the Fife and Tayside region, most notably Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot Watt University, Queen Margaret University, The University of Edinburgh, and University of Stirling.

Our Schools

Meet the team

Headshot of Mairi McKinnon

Mairi McKinnon

Programme Manager

I’m a farmer’s daughter from Fife. In between helping with lambing (mainly feeding all the pets!) I managed to get my Highers (and even some Advanced Highers) from Bell Baxter High School then went onto study Psychology with Biological Sciences at Edinburgh University.

Following a few years travelling the world after graduating, I fell into the employment world of Education and have been here ever since; I’ve even been back studying whilst working to gain some postgraduate qualifications.

I’ve been with LIFT OFF since 2011 and I’m passionate about advocating for the young people we work with. The best part of my job is seeing people succeed knowing I have been part of their journey.

Headshot of Melissa Rooks

Mel Rookes

Depute Manager

I am the Depute Manager here at LIFT OFF and officially joined the programme as a Development Worker in 2014, although I did first work with the Team as a LIFT OFF Learning Skills tutor in 2013 during my Master’s degree. My educational background is in Applied, Forensic and Consumer Psychology and I studied both my Undergraduate and Master’s/MbR at Abertay University beginning my HE journey way back in 2005.

My favourite thing about working with LIFT OFF, aside from the fantastic team of colleagues, is watching our pupils grow in confidence throughout their time with the programme. It’s such a great, rewarding feeling watching them move into their next destinations after school and thinking of all of the awesome experiences and challenges they have ahead of them.

Headshot of Julie McLaughlin

Julie McLaughhlin


When leaving school I had no idea what I wanted to do. I decided to go to college where I studied Business Administration. Since leaving college I have worked in various administrative roles.

I also went back to college and gained a qualification in Human Resources and worked in this field for a few years. I’ve now worked with LIFT OFF for nearly 12 years so feel like I’m part of the furniture! I really enjoy helping to arrange all of our amazing events for our pupils and seeing them gain so much from the LIFT OFF programme.

Headshot of Hannah Campbell

Hannah Campbell

Development Worker

I left school in 6th year MANY moons ago, with a variety of Highers under my belt and a not so well-thought-out plan! I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but knew I enjoyed working with people. I originally thought about teaching or social work, but ended up settling on Social Sciences, and left university with an HND, only to return and complete my degree a few years later part time while working.

Before joining LIFT OFF in 2019 I worked in Further Education for a long time, with a focus on transitions and support. I find working in education hugely rewarding, and I am passionate about inclusion and lifelong learning. Working with LIFT OFF is fab, not only do I have the support of a fantastic team, but I get to work with young people from around Scotland achieve their potential and goals!

Headshot of Helen King

Helen King

Development Worker

I left school after S5 as I knew that staying in school would mean taking subjects I didn’t like just to fill up a timetable! I went on to college where I studied a foundation course in Art and Design. College was a great steppingstone for me as I was able to explore different specialisms and the qualification allowed me to apply directly to year 2 of a degree programme.

I achieved a first-class honours in my undergraduate studies in Art Philosophy and Contemporary Practices and later a Master’s in Art, Society & Publics. Since graduating I have worked in various community outreach and widening access settings before joining the LIFT OFF team in 2020.

Portrait of a woman smiling with curly hair

Emma Paterson

Development Worker

Moving from Edinburgh down to Somerset when I was five, I then came back up to Scotland to study Geosciences at the University of St Andrews. I had a fantastic time and the field trips were a particular highlight, even when the weather wasn’t kind to us! After graduating, I worked for Dynamic Earth science centre in Edinburgh, getting to travel all over Scotland and present earth & environmental sciences to a whole range of audiences. I then joined the Widening Participation team at the University of Edinburgh, where I worked on the Reach project, supporting pupils interested in Law, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.

I love helping people to reach their goals, so working for LIFT OFF as a Development Worker is a great fit and also gives me the opportunity to explore more of Fife & Tayside!

Profile of Shauntelle Islam, woman with long black hair wearing sunshine yellow top.

Shauntelle Islam

Development Worker

During high school I wasn’t shown the endless opportunities and fascinating subjects there are out there to study and needed a little more time to find out what I liked doing.

After a gap year in Malawi, I continued to seek out other volunteer opportunities that allowed me to travel. It was this experience that sparked my interest into global affairs, past and present and I decided to study International Relations at the Open University. I graduated just last year and since then have enjoyed working with different Access and Widening Participation programmes in Fife that help students gain access and advice the opportunities available in Higher Education. Having the opportunity to work with Lift Off helps me continue this journey. The main lesson I learned during this time is that you are allowed to study something that you enjoy and there really is a course for everything.

Headshot of Flo, Black Sprocker spaniel sitting on a red chair


Paper Shredder Pupfessional

Hi I’m Flo (Florence if we’re being posh!) I’m the LIFT OFF office dog. I’m a 1 year old Sprocker Spaniel who loves long walks, chasing things and provide in-house shredding services to the LIFT OFF team. 

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