Place: Inside

In his last term after 17 years as Headmaster of Bedales, Keith Budge is writing a series of six reflections on the school. The theme of this second blog is ‘Place: Inside’.

A big part of my Bedales education has been with design and architecture. In previous schools building  was all about utility – the most for the least, with aesthetics considered a frippery – whereas here it was to be different.  Why? The Arts & Crafts movement has beauty and utility at its core; and John Badley’s educational philosophy emphasises the importance of environment  –  the benign effect of  good surroundings on young people. The one school aim I inherited in 2001 was “the appreciation of the beautiful”. I have had the great good fortune to preside over two large and influential building projects – the Orchard Building and Art & Design.

Let’s do some stock-taking of what we had in 2001. Over 60% of teaching was done in the three Greville Rhodes “temporary” flat-roofed, conspicuously (for the time) modern blocks – North, South and Art (1968). These had been built – with great controversy – as the school expanded from 240 to 340. The classrooms in North and South block were small – a push to house 22 – with wafer thin walls: noisy, hot in summer and cold in winter. As teaching spaces they were poor, making it against the grain for teachers to depart from a traditional “chalk and talk” approach.

I did three useful things with the Orchard Building (2006): I suggested to the then Chair of Governors, Michael Blakstad, that we must have an architect on the Board and I wrote the brief for the building and worked closely with the architects to ensure that the ethos suffused the building.  We chose the architects, Walters & Cohen, because of their track record and their way of working, not because they had experience of building for schools – they had none.  Their approach was to come and spend time at the school – to understand the community and the pulse of the school day.  Whereas the Greville Rhodes buildings, in common with much of the icon-ruffling architecture of the 1960s, took no notice of our great signature buildings – the Lupton Hall (1912) and the Library (1919) – the Orchard Building, with the same pitch of roof reflects Arts & Crafts principles: truth to materials in particular, with its bold use of wood and concrete. Cindy Walters also led a master planning exercise which was decisive in creating the geometry at the estate’s centre: the first axis running from the red path in the car park (2005) to where Badley’s chair sits in the Quad, with the bisecting axis having the Theatre (1997) and Steephurst at its west and east ends.

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When the Orchard Building opened in September 2006, the school became calmer.  It worked.

Much happened in the 10 years between this and the building of Art & Design (2016): the refurbishment of Steephurst (£0.5 million x 3 summer holidays); the exterior of 6.2 and interior of Boys’ Flat; the re-modelling of Dunhurst’s interior; the three new staff houses (2012) near Outdoor Work, and, on a  smaller scale but poignantly powerful for so many of us, the Sam Banks Pavilion (2013), the work of the OB twin brothers, the Russells, who had learnt much of their craft with the re-assembling of the 18th century Sotherington Barn in the 1980s.

The recent transformation of the area between the gates and Steephurst, with the new Art & Design building at its centre was Matthew Rice’s idea. He had the vision to see that it made no sense to follow the original Walters & Cohen idea of re-building on the existing site (of Art & Design) but that constructing it where the makeshift Facilities’ buildings were offered a triple benefit: a more prominent setting for one of the school’s great fortes; a brown field site with consequent cost savings; an enhancement to the school’s entrance; and the desirability of putting departments with complementary activities – Art, Design and Outdoor Work – together.

Codicil to all this is delight at seeing the beautiful recent restoration of the Lupton Hall, recounted precisely and tenderly in this article from the Old Bedalian Newsletter (click here and scroll to page 20) by Anna Keay, the governor who  succeeded Matthew Rice as Chairs of Buildings’ sub-committee.

My advice then about schools and building:  remember that nothing can happen until your finances are in good fettle; get plenty of architectural and property expertise onto the governing board;  put the school’s ethos at the centre of your buildings’ design; consult widely before you build; make your teachers who will use the building central to that consultation; and remember that great design doesn’t cost much more than indifferent design.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools