Evening at Chalk Farm

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Last time I was at the Round House, I was watching Bob Hoskins in all the pomp of his stage villainy plot the downfall of the Duchess of Malfi.  Tuesday evening and I am sitting at a fancy table, well dined, in a Round House adapted for the RIBA awards, surrounded by architects, listening to Louise Minchin describe the four buildings that are shortlisted for Client of the Year: Bedales School Art & Design Building being one of them.  The judge opens his envelope and – wow! – Yes, we have won.

Up onto the stage we go for the presentation of the award and my brief, sob-free, acceptance speech.  Big thanks are due to Tom Jarman of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios who nominated us for the award and to the home team: Matthew Rice whose vision for the building informed the project;  our bursar, Richard Lushington, who held all the different dimensions together; Nigel Hartley, the project manager; and the heads of Art and Design, Simon Sharp and Ben Shaw.

Cameras flash etc and we troop off to leave the stage free for the Stirling Prize – Hastings Pier, which is firmly on my list of places to visit.

The RIBA Client of the Year has been awarded since 1998 and we are the first school to win the prize – you can see the previous winners here.

So, this is good for Bedales, for the independent sector and for schools in general.  Building well, works – great design and a great process is often no more expensive than the grimly utilitarian. And you have a building that will inspire for a century or so.

For me, there are three major lessons that come from the Client of the Year accolade.

The first is the power of ethos.  The RIBA booklet describes it as “a building after a philosophy of being”. In the same way that we have tried to ensure that the ethos permeates the curriculum, so the best of our buildings embody the ethos.  Appreciation of the beautiful, making and doing and the influence of the school environment are all key elements of that ethos which the building reflects.

The second is the power of consultation: students, staff, parents, OBs, the local community were all consulted.  The initial plans were rejected – “too big, too dark, too close to Steephurst” – and the revised ones then consulted on further.

Finally, it is the strength of collaboration. RIBA described is as “co-authorship in the truest sense”.  Architects and school understood, liked and respected each other, with a brilliant result.  Hoorah!

Psychogeographical ramble

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Obscurely wandering in an early cloudy dawn after freshening night’s rain, I am thinking about psychogeography. Curious, yes.

Why? A mélange of reasons: here are five. We have a geography conference today and there will, I am sure, be talk of it there.  Local poet (and poet’s poet) Edward Thomas, on our minds in the 100th year of his death,  played his part in the development of psychogeography, being a rambler-thinker who was intrigued by ancient paths and therefore an inspiration for Robert Macfarlane (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot).  A big Macfarlane fan, I have even been inspired to read his muse, Nan Shepherd, and walk in her steps imaginatively over the Cairngorms.  More locally, I have been struck too by the artwork that children in Dunhurst and Dunannie have produced, inspired by Thomas’ poetry.  Thanks to a kind birthday gift, I am reading two books that have a psychogeographical flavour, being based on the idea of the flâneur and the flâneuse, and such those moody trampers of urban landscapes as Baudelaire and Jean Rhys.  And finally, summer’s lease invites plenty of walking in our dreamy nook of Hampshire– mainly early morning and late evening.

Bringing it all closer to home and to the psychology of space, my driftings around our outdoor spaces remind me how influential our students and other resident mammals have been on our landscape.  Yes, so much of this place’s nature was set by its early agricultural life, whether that is the division between its fields or the quasi-agricultural establishment of the Orchard at the school’s heart; but there is a more recent series of shape-shiftings.

My dawn walk along what I think is a familiar path suddenly has me pulling up sharp, aided for once by a cowering black dog whose instincts are better tuned: black mutt the saves day, I think, as I pull up sharp to avoid walking into an electric fence: pigs!  Of course, the pigs have been moved – well, their location has been moved; they are distinctly unmoved, I note, observing the gentle rise and fall of a sleeping flitch of sandy and black, cosy in its sty.  Pigs clear land of scrub, so their progress around the school’s messier bits of woodland is making those places easier to walk through and more pleasant to be in.  We continue down the hill, admiring the view we have through the trees.

Our outdoors affects our indoors: bringing the beauty of the outdoors inside was one of the aspirations of the Orchard building and, more recently, the Art & Design one.  I am glad of that as I sit in classes and meetings in rooms where the benefit of outside combines with that of being inside.

This is all in advance of our Parents’ Day this weekend when members of the community – future, present and past – will be celebrating the place we share and which has or will shape us.

Although the Orchard will exert its usual gravitational pull, I trust there will be plenty of what (brace yourself) those psychogeographers called dérive.  This means (more or less) drifting, but like many things, sounds better in French.

 

Making time

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By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

The emphasis that Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) have on coursework and the conclusion of those courses at the end of this month means that this stage in the Spring Term  entails much making and doing – whether your creation is an English Literature essay, your History chronicles, a gargantuan Utopia project, a student-crafted play or your Design artefact, we are coming into the zenith of the season of Block 5 doing and making.

The new Art & Design building is always an interesting place to visit, but doing so around midday on Sunday was especially gripping.  Turn right and you’re in a beautiful Fashion Design studio full of Block 5s making sumptuous clothes: here is Lettie’s MRI-scan themed tie-dyed (and multi-coloured) corset. By contrast there is Mia’s magpie themed (suitably black) dress with its multiple feathery tassel bits.  Over by the window pinned to the mannequin is Tiger’s shapely aquamarine sea-water-themed chiffon dress; and so she mulls:  the ripples in the chiffon are suitable, it seems, but when does a ripple become a ruck?  The 60s tend to feature – and, yes, here is an octagon inspired dress: Fleur is mapping out the octagons’ geometry – tricky work.

Over in the Product Design side, Cian is sanding his maple clock and Goose has created the most exotic of tables, with a mariner’s top and a bark-covered base which will be coated in a PVA and water mix to ensure it lasts.  Lily is making a very different table which has a reversible top – backgammon on one side and general purpose on the other.  Jack’s wellie and coat holder has involved some serious welding and is at least as tall as I am.  Joel’s glider launcher combines an electric motor with a crafty take-off pad, whilst Archie’s Cooking Camping Stove Unit even has a mini cool box – handy indeed.  Happily the new Jewellery Bay has had some action. MIllie’s steel bracelet needs some intricate cutting.

The patient students have to put up with my nosey questions – about materials and thought processes; but I find it as interesting as I do encouraging.  There is real pride in what they are doing and such a sense of purpose infusing the whole weekend: teachers, technicians and students are working closely together.

Next stop, Bedales Dance Performs on Thursday evening.

Space to make and grow

Much talk here about creativity and its links with entrepreneurship.  This comes partly through discussions with parents (current and prospective), colleagues and students, partly because of the changes we are seeing to buildings and spaces at Bedales and partly because of the way in which the aspirations of young Britons in their twenties seem to have changed.

Let me try to flesh out each of these three threads in turn.

You do not need to be a futurologist to see that the world of work has changed markedly from the one most parents of secondary school age parents emerged into.  Jobs within corporate structures for life are rare; serial careers will increasingly become the norm; individuals will have to become much more proactive in the development of their own personal “brand”; and chunk of jobs in professions currently considered to be relatively safe from automation will disappear as some of the more routine work done by, for example, lawyers and pharmacists is automated.

Accompanying parents’ awareness that this will be the case is a healthy scepticism about schools’ ability to prepare children for the future.  Strange to find me saying this? Maybe.  But think about the way that the state determines the curriculum: decisions taken by Michael Gove in, say, 2011 will affect those sitting some GCSEs in 2017 and therefore those students emerging into the workplace from 2019 at the earliest – 2022 if they have gone to university.  And this was a (famously) quick curriculum change (and maybe with an eye more to the past than the future, but that’s another topic).

You do not need to have seen Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk to know that the way that our schools are organised, with the emphasis on orderly progression and the silos of individual subjects is largely a Victorian creation.  Schools are good at doing all sorts of things but in general they adjust only in miniscule ways to the needs of the future.  My education equipped me splendidly to stride out into the empire that had more or less disappeared by my birth.

Second thread: changes to buildings and spaces.  Create a new building which combines all the different elements of Design (i.e. designing anything and making anything) with all the different elements of Fine Art and you have new possibilities; put that new Art & Design building close to the department (Outdoor Work) that also builds, creates and grows things (from lettuces to pigs, via hedges and barns, not to mention chutney, pizzas, duck houses and fleeces) and you are making a space where all sorts of additional things will happen.  Have an idea? Good, you can probably see if it will work.

Creating the space within and between these areas of endeavour will only result in interesting things happening if these moves are accompanied by a no-fear, can-do, give-it-a-go approach by the teachers who oversee them and a broader willingness to trust students to develop their initiatives.  I am very confident that this instinct is alive and well here.

Third thread: young Britons in their twenties (aka millenials) are much more likely to want to run their own business and to favour a high degree of autonomy over their lives than their parents.  Having children and numerous nieces and nephews in these areas, it is clear that the proportion of them and their friends whose interests lie in either starting a business themselves or joining a small enterprise is considerable.  The reputation that London – and in particular its hipster /start up centres such as Shoreditch – has gathered as a start up hub is of course a factor, but I suspect that this is much more trend than fad.

My spur to writing about this came on Monday morning when I watched a lesson which involved the making of butter in Outdoor Work.  There in the folksy surroundings of the Bakery I saw eight Block 3s make butter from scratch: the pouring of Jersey unpasteurised cream into little hand churners; the careful churning; the separation of the butter from the butter milk; the patting of the butter and then the addition of different flavours – garlic, radish, tarragon or chilli.   As the Outdoor Work farm shop (under the ODW clock tower) becomes a reality next academic year, the incentive for students to devise new things they want to make and sell will increase.  I heard yesterday that one is now developing a business making soap.  Expect a farm shop with a big range of products. This is a space definitely to be watched.

Classy Dawns

Out early with singular black dog into the most spectacular crisp morniKEITH BUDGE 8.3.16ng and dawn light.   The corny term, roseate glow, does actually (and I suppose literally) apply as I see for the first time the five clean cut gable ends of the new Art & Design building sharply defined against the backdrop of a most stunning dawn sky, layered in strips of red and grey, behind them – the big gable neighbouring Steephurst first then the four smaller ones beside.

Ambling past the theatre there is a clunky splash as eight Canada geese shuffle off their bank roost and onto the lake.  Walking along by Emma’s Walk, I applaud the fine work the pigs have done in clearing up the scrubby land beneath the trees and – again, pig-induced good stuff by our Outdoor Work department – the classy, arts and crafts sty that sits alongside the Black Barn, where, in another snug sty, Angelica is standing admiring her eight piglets who are in a big snuggle in the corner.

Up on the Mem Pitch the first sun is on the Hangers and the singular black dog is playing her only game of collecting tennis balls. Whilst some dogs are said to mourn the loss of a long-time companion, she doesn’t seem to have noticed: ball and food and all is well.  Her bygone companion Ailsa managed at least 13 out of the 15 Ullswater trips that have happened in my time – a sound attendance record and, as they say, a good innings.

Walking back, that stunning red sky has gone and I think back to another great dawn – Ullswater 2014 – when those of us lucky enough to be camping high up above the lake woke to a blanket of cloud beneath, as seen here with dogs providing foreground.

Building speak

“Duskily glowing, I always think,” murmurs Mem Library, as if to himself.

“What are you burbling on about, now? Do I detect a recurrence of literary reference, august friend and neighbour?”

“You can hardly blame me for being a bit literary, what with all my books – and that ‘duskily glowing’ just seems to capture how the mid January evening sun feels on my flank of an evening – lovely, you know? And it’s from Edward Thomas, y’know; he’s one of ours, a Steep fellow.”

“I suppose it’s fine for you to be a bit pleased with yourself – ‘most beautiful school library, jewel of the late Arts & Crafts’ blah, blah blah! It’s not fair: lots of interesting  things happen in your much visited, Grade listed 1 interior – and you are so warm; here I am with my lovely crucks, my bold austerity, my Powell clock, my Grade 1 status too, my sleek benches and all I have is some music and a bit of LAMDA – not for me the constant patter of student feet, those fascinating exhibitions of warriors and that recurrent lovely shhhh! Sound –“

“It’s your benches – they are too many – and they are too hard.”

Mem Lib and his bosom adjacent pal, Lupton (nee New) Hall have these kind of ruminative talks, as befit the products of Ernest Gimson – and, of course, the two most distinguished of Bedales’ buildings.

The reflective silence is broken by Lupton’s tentative thought:

“The new one’s coming on all right.”

Art & Design, you mean?”

“Yes, it’s all been so quick – one moment those disreputable sheds are there, the next another big one is springing up – and quite close to cousin Steephurst too – “

“Not that close, you old fusspot, just cosy.”

“OK, cosy….. I like her cladding – a bit like that Orchard Building you are so snooty about.”

Mem Lib gathers for the kind of portentous statement you can make if you are such a jewel of the late Arts & Crafts movement.

“I think A&D is going to be a welcome addition to the family of Bedales buildings – and that we lucky products of the great Gimson (pronounced J as in ‘genial’), we lucky few – “

“Aw, pipe down, dear Mem, pipe down…”

For STEM read STEAM

Ivon Hitchens

Hats off to Edmund de Waal, author and ceramicist, and the Crafts Council. On Monday De Waal launched the Crafts Council manifesto – Our Future Is In the Making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making. Craft-related courses are under the cosh in schools and Art Colleges. De Waal points both to the £3.4 billion that craft skills generate for the UK economy and to the link between making and entrepreneurship, citing Josiah Wedgwood whose childhood experience as a potter was instrumental to his becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the eighteenth century. The manifesto places the A of Art amongst the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), pointing to its importance in careers such as Architecture – hence the re-fashioned acronym, STEAM.

This links in my mind with what I heard in the presentation given by the Bedales Schools’ Art departments to our governors on Friday. Bedales Head of Art, Simon Sharp talked about how the place was “a school of seeing where it was cool to be creative” and where, because of the strong emphasis on Art and Design in our prep school, Dunhurst, students coming through to the senior school established this culture whereby “there was no cynicism about the value of Art” and where students quickly accepted that “worry and struggle are part of it – if it’s easy it’s not Art”.

There are two current and vibrant examples of this: the Art auction, launched with a display last week of some of the most prominent work, including an Ivon Hitchens (pictured above), kindly donated to help raise money for our new Art & Design building and now online at Paddle8; and the Barnsley Workshop exhibition in the Gallery, which will be viewed amongst others by many of those attending the Edward Thomas event on Sunday, when we will celebrate his brief life of an associated kind of craft –  that of poetry.


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.