Students studying art at university in the United Kingdom tend to be female, from higher social classes and from majority ethnic groups. This paper considers some of the complex and deeply-rooted social and economic factors that militate against wider participation in the arts and describes how we started to tackle under-representation at Goldsmiths using a participatory action research approach. Working in partnership with local colleges, the project aimed to increase student diversity and widen participation in the Goldsmiths BA Fine Art Degree. The need for university applicants to have the 'right sort' of cultural capital is particularly marked in Fine Art, indicating that standard widening participation aspiration-raising activities would not solve the problem. A range of interventions were developed to support potential applicants, underpinned by participatory action research. The flexibility and responsiveness of the research model allowed us to reflect on and respond to issues as they arose and to achieve immediate positive impact.