Weekend activities for boarders

By Jack Brooksbank, Block 3 and Oskar de Aragues, Block 4

The weekends for the boarders at Bedales this year have definitely been a highlight and a great way to end a busy week.

We have done it all, from visiting a 500-year-old ship (the Mary Rose), to seeing all the animals at Marwell Zoo, jam packing our weekends with activities. There were also the classic favourites of bowling, shopping or seeing the very latest blockbusters at Gunwharf Quays. Last Sunday, we went trampolining at Flip Out.

What we really like about the weekend here is that Bedales provides a relaxing, homely place to rest your head after the previous week, thanks to having supper and breakfast on flat in the shared kitchens, a movie night and friends from different year groups all around you. There are also many food related activities – two of our favourites being pasta making with Giacomo and fajitas with Alejandro and Alastair.

The weekends are what makes being a boarder feel so unique with a family and home away from home.

Bedales hosts first Reading Day

Last Friday saw Bedales host its first Reading Day, with students and staff taking part in a range of reading related activities throughout the day, from nature poetry walking tours to exploring different ways to enjoy Shakespeare, listening to Stephen Fry read Harry Potter and independent reading on the Orchard.

Head of English David Anson – who along with Rick Cross (Deputy Head Academic), Al McConville (Director of Learning and Innovation), Emily Seeber (Head of Sciences) and Ian Douglas (Librarian) organised the day – explained that the idea for a ‘Reading Day’ stemmed from a collective, passionate belief in independent learning, as well as the view that reading is the very best way to learn. This is an idea that is backed up by research as well as some of the pedagogical foundations Bedales was set up with.

Activities were designed to give students – regardless of ability or levels of interest – the opportunity to get their teeth into areas of personal interest, with the day structured around independent reading and activities that encouraged or modelled ‘how to read’ – reading or understanding an object or the landscape, for example.

The day went well and there is talk of holding another in the future, possibly one in the winter term and then again in the summer. Thanks to everyone who was involved in the smooth running of the day.

The Bedales Chair

By Hugo Burge, Old Bedalian 1985-1990

It was a very special experience to return to Bedales and celebrate the history of the Bedales chair – giving a Jaw to students and other guests, showing our film The Chairmaker and taking questions. After all, this is where my curiosity (and I confess a slight obsession) with rush seat chairs all began. Sitting in those chairs, in that majestic library and under the spell of the wonderful David Butcher (staff 1963-92), wood, design and the Arts and Crafts movement got under my skin and started an unexpected journey. So, what is the history of these chairs? And why have we made a film that we brought to show everyone in the Lupton Hall? What does the chair symbolise when thinking about broader questions of design, longevity and sustainability?

The history of the Bedales chair is an under-told story but sits at the heart of the beautiful Bedales Memorial Library, arguably the ethos of the school and – more broadly – of the Arts and Crafts movement. Designed by Ernest Gimson, the visionary behind the extraordinary library and Lupton Hall that we have all come to love, the Bedales chair not only represents a long multi-generational tradition of making but also is a living tradition that has been under threat. Lawrence Neal has been making rush seat chairs for 50 years, learning from his father – who made them for 61 years, who learned from Edward Gardiner, who was directly apprenticed to Ernest Gimson. It is little known that you can look at many chairs in the library and see who made them by the stamp with their name on. Each chair has a story, a specific maker and embodies hundreds of years of tradition.

So, how did I get involved? Upon leaving university my first significant purchase of  furniture was six chairs from Lawrence Neal in 1994 – I simply felt that this was the most accessible reminder and embodiment of the library that I had come to love. More recently, when doing up a house in Scotland which was substantially re-modelled by the leading Scottish arts and crafts designer Sir Robert Lorimer (who has parallels to Gimson and Lutyens) my interest in rush seat chairs grew. This humble chair structure, perhaps the first mass-produced chair in Britain, was appropriated by the Arts and Crafts greats of the time – Ernest Gimson, Edwin Lutyens, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, William Morris, William Burgess, Charles Francis Annesley Voysey and more. So, as my curiosity and our collection grew, I became aware that newly purchased chairs kept having to go to Lawrence Neal to repair and restore. Was there no one else? After all, Lawrence had at least a six month waiting list. I later came to understand that Lawrence might be the last person in Britain making and repairing these chairs for a living, having raised a family on the back of it.

When visiting his history-layered workshop, with his father’s SAS cap nonchalantly hanging on the back of the door, covered in layers of dust, I was struck by the beauty of the place and felt compelled to want to capture it in some way. Then, understanding that this lineage was under threat because Lawrence needed to sell the workshop to retire, and wanting to capture his story and all the history – I agreed to make a film with Falcon Productions. The resulting film has tried to capture the beauty of the chair making, the history of the chairs, Lawrence’s story and the living tradition. At the school, we also unveiled a short additional clip, celebrating the Bedales chair, with Matthew Rice (1975-80) reflecting on its iconic status, whilst David Snowdon harks back to the time he learned to make them in the woods, speaking to its humble origins but noble enduring nature.

The film includes a provocation that suggests that in order to ensure ongoing  craftsmanship with such a long history, we need to make conscious decisions to enable its survival, from celebrating the people who make them to deciding which products to buy. The Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction against the industrial revolution in a period of massive change and wealth creation. William Morris (who inspired Gimson) felt that we needed to celebrate the craftsman,nature and hand-crafted beauty of things that we bought. In many ways there was a tension at the heart of his message since, as a devout socialist, he really became a purveyor of luxury goods to the wealthy. Today, we are experiencing a powerful information and technology revolution, that again is creating a complementary ground swell of interest in locally made things that are sustainable, can endure and have a story. Some great questions came up from students during the Lupton Hall film screening, that asked about the importance of mass-produced machine-made products. How do we find balance in an age of global consumerism? How can we seek sustainability? Clearly individually hand-made things are not the only answer, but they form an important balance and perhaps can also have a lasting impact, in the same way that the Arts and Crafts movement impacted design and furniture making in the 21st century.

So, next time you are in the Library, do sit on a Bedales chair and become aware of its wonderful history, the broader story it is part of and the symbol it represents as a handcrafted creation that is both timeless and subject to considerable longevity (even when exposed to the rough and tumble of school life).

In a cheery footnote to the Bedales Chair story, with the help of the Heritage Craft Association, we have managed to secure two apprentices to learn Lawrence’s craft to ensure that it endures for generations to come. When the apprentices have come of age and Lawrence says that they can stand on their own two feet, the workshops – with all the tools dating back to Ernest Gimson’s time at Daneway, will be moving up to new workshops in the old stables at Marchmont House in the Scottish Borders, so the lineage starts a new chapter that we hope will continue to evolve, inspire and endure.

There is an opportunity to bid for a specially commissioned Library Chair in the John Badley Foundation fundraising auction. See here to browse the auction lots – with new items added.

Insightful visit to Brockwood Park

By Blossom Gottlieb, 6.2

A vegetarian school where the students choose whether to take exams or not? Sign me up!

On 13 March, a group of three students in 6.2 took a trip with Al McConville to Brockwood Park School, only 15 minutes away in Alresford, to join their Inquiry Time (described as their “weekly opportunity to look deeper at issues arising in life, living together, the intentions of the school and how we respond to them”) and get involved in their Human Ecology (aka Outdoor Work on steroids!)

I was struck not only by the beautiful surroundings of the school, but the sense of community that we experienced in the assembly as soon as we arrived. Sat in a circular formation around a few meditating people in the centre of this octagonal timber-roofed room, the atmosphere of peace was incomparable.

Inquiry Time is an hour and a half session where students and teachers discuss a topic of importance, without debating it, enabling them to share their opinions without fear of judgement.  The question for last Wednesday was How does education affect us and how do we affect education? This led our group to question what ‘education’ is, semantically; whether examinations serve a purpose; whether schools actually ‘educate’ their pupils; and the impact education has on society.

After this, we got involved in Outdoor Work-style jobs. For Al, this was repotting plants and digging; for me, it was watching a documentary on re-growing vegetation in land that has been deforested, then wiping leaves, a task which allowed me to time to reflect on the morning.

It was a delightful and enlightening experience and I really enjoyed getting to know a few of Brockwood’s lovely students and teachers – I only wish more Bedalians had taken the opportunity to visit such a wonderful school.

Encouraging lifelong interest in sport

Bedales-football

By Spencer Leach, Director of Sport

In 2017 a survey by Women in Sport found that only 56% of girls in secondary school enjoyed participating in sport compared with 71% of boys, and only 45% of girls saw the relevance of PE to their lives against 60% of boys. The gender split is worrying, but in truth none of these figures are good enough – at Bedales, we want all students to leave the school having enjoyed sport in some way, and minded to continue some kind of participation in their adult lives. Something I think we’ve done particularly well at Bedales is to help students who have arrived feeling that sport isn’t for them to find something they enjoy. No matter the student, they will always get a warm reception from us, and we will try to find something for them that is suited to their abilities and preferences – for various reasons.

For example, sport brings distinctive opportunities for students to learn about themselves and others, and to develop confidence – although this needs careful management. In a classroom you can make three errors in, say, maths, and it is not immediately obvious. However, if you commit three howlers in the context of a team sport, everybody sees them and it may prompt disappointment and frustration. This requires staff to be alert to the dangers when mistakes happen, and to help students deal with them in an appropriate way. This requires some emotional maturity. It is interesting that some of our best athletes can find this difficult. In such cases, the coaches will be aware of it, and we are prepared for when students’ thought patterns are less than constructive. We encourage them to see that they are still in the game, that they haven’t blown it, and even if they don’t prevail on that occasion the world won’t end.

Of course, in all of this there is sometimes a tension to be managed between competing and ensuring everybody is involved, which is particularly evident in team fixtures against other schools. There may be the temptation to pursue a win at all costs, but I’m pleased to say over the last 10 to 15 years a more sensible approach has come to prevail, not least because national governing bodies have played a big part in making the experience of young people more central. So, in setting up a fixture I will have a conversation with my opposite number about our relative strengths and what we can do to make the encounter meaningful. Will the students enjoy it? Will they be inspired to practise and get better? The results will take care of themselves – in a well-planned season we’ll win some and lose some, and have some thrillers along the way. We enjoy success, and try to learn from things that didn’t go quite so well. And if we win 10-0 there will be some reflection on how we can make the next encounter between the teams a more challenging affair for the sake of both teams.

Although we are keen to find something enjoyable for all of our students, I like to think that we can also give our excellent athletes what they need from us. We work hard to find ways of challenging them that are meaningful and which they will appreciate. If we think they can cope, we find them opportunities with older year groups, and if we feel students might benefit from moving up to another representative level, we can make that happen. Our links with local clubs and regional representative structures are very strong.

We are not a big school and it is unlikely that we will have sustained national sporting success, but if we’ve got lots of children who have a positive attitude to being physically active, and will keep that attitude in their adult lives, then we do the subject justice – just so long as we make sure that we also stretch those students who really do have the appetite and aptitude for great things.

Visiting Thomas Hardy’s Wessex

Last Saturday, a group of 6.2 English students visited Dorset to visit some of the key sites in Thomas Hardy’s life, to complement their study of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and some of his poetry. Here are two perspectives from the trip.

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

Thomas Hardy didn’t move far in his life; the distance from his birthplace in Lower Bockhampton to Max Gate, the house he built for himself on the outskirts of Dorchester once he had found success, is less than two miles.

First up was Hardy’s birthplace, a small cottage that has remained largely unchanged from when Hardy lived there with his parents and siblings. We were led there by National Trust volunteer Wendy, who led us through the woodland above the cottage and read to us some of the poems Hardy wrote inspired by the landscape.

The most ambitious part of the trip followed with our group walking through steady Dorset drizzle, following the River Frome across which Angel Clare had carried Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, to Stinsford Church, where Hardy’s heart is buried in the family tomb.

Further walking across boggy flood meadow took us to Max Gate, and a meeting with Andrew Leah, Vice President of the Thomas Hardy Society, who lived at Max Gate for 17 years before the National Trust opened it as a visitor attraction.

Andrew gave us a tour of each room and described movingly the creeping melancholy that coloured most of Hardy’s married life at Max Gate, followed by the guilt that consumed him after his wife’s death. We sat in the study room in which Hardy wrote Tess, and then moved next door to the room he took over when he turned his back on writing prose and wrote only poetry until his death.

By Thea Sesti, 6.2

By walking from one of Hardy’s homes to the other, we explored the landscape and the place Hardy was so tied to and served as a backdrop for so many of his works.

We were at times accompanied by a National Trust guide who read out some of Hardy’s poetry in the Dorset woodland, which clearly evidenced the sensibility and attachment to nature he had from a young age and emerged so prominently in some of his later novels, like Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Having studied the text as part of A Level English, we were able to draw comparisons between the then appropriately damp and evocative scenery we came across walking and that in the book, making us understand all the more the area’s impact on Hardy’s life as an author.

We were thus able to retrace his life’s journey as he moved from his family cottage to Max Gate, the house he built for himself and moved into with the first of two wives, following the rise of his wealth and fame.

Transformative Education

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Philosophy, Religion & Ethics

An education is a transformative thing, and a great education can lead to a great transformation. Every student at Bedales is fortunate to have so many opportunities. Being part of a school like this, someone has invested in that transformation. For many, parents make this investment. Sometimes, it is grandparents. I have even known students paying their own fees out of inherited money. Others, and I was one of them, get to come to a school like this with the support of others, through bursary programmes. I can speak as one who knows: bursaries transform lives.

Patrick Derham, OBE, the Headmaster of Westminster, and formerly Rugby, knows this better than most. We were so fortunate to have him speak at Jaw on Wednesday, and the impact his talk had on students was palpable. Having, like me, been to seven schools before the age of 12, he was an ‘Ari Boy’, educated aboard the permanently moored vessel Arethusa. One day, he was asked ‘Do you know what Public School is, Derham?’ ‘No, Sir’, he replied. The school aboard the Arethusa was disbanded overnight, and he was sent off to Pangbourne College, a beneficiary of a bursary from an anonymous donor. It changed his life, giving him opportunities beyond his wildest dreams.

He took advantage of every chance, getting to Pembroke College, Cambridge, and has spent his career determined to give back. He started the celebrated Arnold (bursary) Foundation at Rugby, and from that went on to found Springboard, a national charity linking young people to places at boarding schools. He is involved with numerous other projects, all concerned with providing excellent educational opportunities to young people in difficult circumstances.

I can see why he said this was what ‘gets him out of bed in the morning’. Last year, I was thrilled and deeply moved to be asked to be a trustee of our own John Badley Foundation. Through the work of the JBF, students with backgrounds more like mine, and those much less fortunate than I was, can get to come here, and just as happens with every child, experience the transformation that comes from a great education.

For more information about the John Badley Foundation, click here.