Sir Lewis Hamilton has visited Stevenage to launch a project that he hopes will "improve the pipeline" for young people from underserved communities who want to work in STEM industries.

Two years ago, the Stevenage-born F1 driver founded his Mission 44 charity, which has now teamed up with a range of organisations - including North Hertfordshire College (NHC), Stevenage Borough Council (SBC), Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and the University of Hertfordshire - to launch the Pioneering Young STEM Futures programme.

Talking to BBC Breakfast about his motivation for the project, Sir Lewis said: "I remember vividly just how difficult it was when I was a kid. We want these kids - they are the future, there's so much they can do but they need help.

"And it's also breaking down some of the barriers that some of these young people are facing.

The Comet: Sir Lewis spoke to A Level students at North Herts College during his visit to Stevenage.Sir Lewis spoke to A Level students at North Herts College during his visit to Stevenage. (Image: Mission 44)

"I really want to see my industry shift and be reflective of the outside world."

In 2020, Sir Lewis commissioned a report on improving representation for black people within motorsport in the UK.

He told BBC Breakfast that he is "proud" to have seen changes in the industry since then.

"I knew that if I hadn't done this bit of research, nothing would change. Did I know that it was going to be me that was going to really spark that and get that going? No. But I'm grateful ... that's why I'm here."

"I've been racing since I was 8, and I was on this journey chasing those wins - wins, wins wins, wins, that's all that mattered.

"And putting together this Foundation has really given my life purpose ... this is really the icing on top of the cake."

Reminiscing about his childhood, Sir Lewis said: "Me and my dad, I remember growing up here in Stevenage, we were watching the Williams sisters and all they had achieved, and we sat and were so inspired.

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"We were like 'maybe when we get there, we will do the same thing'. So there's a huge amount of work to increase diversity and gender equality and these are the things that with Mission 44 I hope to achieve."

Mission 44's stated goal is to help people "under the age of 27 who face disadvantage or discrimination, including young people from low-income backgrounds and young people of colour".

Their Pioneering Young STEM Futures programme includes bursaries for young people to access support and industrial placements, virtual reality sessions related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, and collaborations with primary schools to improve the experience of science lessons in schools.

During his visit, Sir Lewis toured NHC's new Stevenage Innovation and Technology Centre, met a number of A Level students at the college, and took part in a life science lab experiment.

Among the students he met were George, who wants to become an engineer in Formula One, and Patrycja, who taught him about how to extract DNA.

Patrycja told BBC Breakfast: "He came from the same city that we're in right now, and he's got this amazing life now. It's great - it makes me believe in myself a little bit more, it makes me want to spread my wings!"

Another student, Alex, said: "I really enjoy learning STEM subjects. I want to move into cell and gene therapy.

"I believe all the support from Lewis Hamilton and Mission 44 will make it easier to access science and STEM related subjects and careers, by showing how amazing and wonderful they can be.

"All this support will help new generations realise the potential they have.”

Lewis thanked the students for having him, and concluded with a message for them: "I just want to encourage you to shoot for beyond the stars, and work as hard as you can and just know that there's nothing you can't do."

During the visit, Sir Lewis also convened a meeting with local employers, education leaders and young people, to discuss how the programme can be most effective.

They agreed to increase their communication and collaboration, and Sir Lewis said he hopes to return to Stevenage to see the progress himself.

Following the visit, Kit Davies, the principal and chief executive of NHC, said: “The college is delighted to be working in partnership with Mission 44 on a transformational learning project that will spark curiosity for STEM careers.

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"Bringing industry into the classroom through the use of innovative learning technology and providing opportunities for young people to experience the STEM opportunities on our doorstep.”

Cllr Richard Henry, the leader of Stevenage Borough Council, added: “Stevenage has a thriving STEM industry and it’s wonderful to see so many young people are interested in it as a career path.

"We are proud of our growing STEM industries and we know a quarter of the satellites currently orbiting Earth were built in Stevenage.

"That’s why we were named the UK’s ‘Space City’ and want to improve accessibility for the next generation.

"Collaborating with Mission 44 will help expand STEM opportunities for young people in Stevenage, as well as highlighting the importance of this industry within our local Stevenage area.”