Evening at Chalk Farm

RIBA Twitter crop

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!

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.

Timely reminders

Having been unavoidably away for much of last week, it has been good to spend some time reminding myself of the important constants of school life – the equivalent perhaps for a farmer of getting in amongst the stock and crops – and of the energy that animates a school.

First stop is Outdoor Work, where you usually see the best of people and where there is always something new – in the polytunnel great care is being taken by the Block 3s to make an A frame up which beans will grow and I see a student’s face light up in a way that I had not seen before. In the barnyard I find two Block 5 boys, Ed A and Henry F and their BAC ODW project, a duck house. I had already taken the liberty of giving Ed a little context on the political resonances of duck houses which he has taken on board, so this conversation was much more granular and, of course, admiring, because this is going to be some duck house, but I still needed to be reassured about waterproofing and also buoyancy. It is going to be like a lake palace – lucky ducks.

Watching Maths being taught is another calming and anchoring activity. I take a wander round Block 3 Maths groups, noting a sympathetic and “no fear” approach to helping the students understand the concepts behind what they are doing, rather than simply feel it is about being right or wrong.

As we have our first Block 3 Review of the term and, hearteningly, many Block 3s’ efforts need to be recognised through congratulatory cards or brief meetings with me (“seeing” to use the vernacular), I am busy congratulating first thing on Thursday morning.  It is great to hear first hand from these students what they are particularly enjoying and any other thoughts they have about their first half of term at Bedales.

The only sadness is I arrive at Dunhurst too late for their Agincourt assembly, which I am very sorry to miss. It cannot match the way Dunhurstians commemorated the anniversary of Waterloo (with much colour, bangs and ingenuity) but it had clearly animated attendees. However, I catch Lisa Whapshott as she is taking her pupils in to their Design lesson. What are they doing this lesson? I ask.  Designing a trug, they answer. Trugs are wonderfully esoteric things (having that badge of honour of not being recognised by spellcheck) and sounding as splendid as they are reassuring to carry; it is very comforting to know that someone is working at designing and then making them in an English school.

So, trugs and duck houses – their future is safe with us.

Students immerse themselves

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It’s a big weekend for all-ins, when Design and Drama students are free of the limitations of the 35 or 70 minute bitesize chunks we call lessons and can immerse themselves in true making with long stretches of time. So, Sunday afternoon and it’s all go in Design. Upstairs amongst the Block 5 BAC design fashionistas, Oli is mastering the intricacies of PVC as he crafts a space-age-looking concept dress whilst Charlotte A’s dress has intricate veiny patterns, Barny’s has a Brazilian cathedral as inspiration for its jagged, pixie tassels and Scott is ironing on 70s style crystals. All are working to demanding designs born out of their own inspiration and in materials that require patience and skill in the making. Downstairs where the materials are resistant, Ottoline is at the lathe fashioning the base for her light whilst Josh is in a haze of beeswax as he smooths his elegant disc. Keen football and tennis men, Taye and Orlando are creating bespoke, elegant homes for their kit, whilst Yoji is working metal to shape the roof on his model of his Utopian new Bedales music school. The workshops have the productive hum of people immersed in what they do – self-generating work of the best kind.

Over in the theatre the weekend is working towards its finale with the 6.2 drama students – a “tech” session then a first run through at 7pm of the two devised A2 pieces. Each group has been working throughout the weekend, with the help of director-in-residence, Georgie Sampson and head of drama Phil King. On Sunday afternoon the students have the additional benefit of a visiting practitioner, Lucy Ellison of Mapping 4D, who watches each piece, bringing “fresh eyes” and additional advice. Although the craft will result in a more ephemeral creature when these pieces are staged on Wednesday and Thursday, the hard work in shaping stubborn material into a finished shape is born of the same impulse and discipline that pervades nearby design. Tough but good work.


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.

Big glad day

A whirligig of happenings over the past few days, starting on Friday evening. First jolly – it’s the BPA fundraising party and I am dressed like an old-fashioned, properly messy artist (it being dress, artistic, you see) with a paint patina-ed apron and a droopy silk handkerchief, calling everyone out of the evening sun into the marquee where things are auctioned (sheep, attendance at film premieres, a holiday in Barbados) and Bedalians raise the tone through playing their music, with their mums and dads bopping in front. (Stop press: circa £60K raised – hoorah! and a huge thank you to the brilliant parent volunteers, student helpers, catering staff and generous donors and buyers of prizes.)

Saturday morning, Parents’ Day proper and we’re off: one of the best hours of the year is the first – my quiet, pad around the Art & Design exhibition before anyone else is there and so I can see it all without needing to be polite and, being of course a unitasker, therefore being distracted. So, here’s an amazing face in oils with the most bewitchingly ugly lips, there’s some semi-melted pottery, there (Gallery now) is a molten face shape with a painted face behind, here (Workshop now) is a chair inspired by I.M. Pei (Mr Louvre, I see) and not just any old ruff and bodice but Marie Antoinette-inspired women’s wear.

I could stay here all day, there being so much that is intriguing and beautiful, but no, off to the Dance display where, as an unagile person who had only been coaxed into the briefest of shuffles in my apron, I watch 70 minutes of pieces conjured from the minds of dance students and their inspiring teachers – Rosie Nash and Liz Richards. But, can’t dawdle too long because it is well after noon and Moony and I are scampering over the Mem Pitch to be part of the opening of the Kadian Observatory – the bit of the day that I will always remember: Kadian’s friends, builders of this observatory, now well grown up, stand proudly in front of this beautiful mini rotunda as Peter Coates, Michael Truss, Thomas Harding speak before Kadian’s sister Sam cuts the ribbon and it is open – a wonderful memorial to Kadian and one that will inspire more wonder.

Then, scuttling back to the Theatre to find it hosting the scratch drama Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens, a powerful piece using actors across the community, with an urgent message about the prevalence of Aids and its continuing impact. Lunch will need to wait as the drumbeat summons us to the farewell to Tony Layzell, drum teacher here for 27 years and former drummer with The Bachelors, a group who my parents shuffled to, I think. Music of another kind beckons and past the massed picnics of the Orchard we go to the Library where, amongst the fine exhibition of OB maps and photos, we find Clare Jarmy‘s madrigalists singing to us from the upstairs balcony: timeless, ethereal…But, though the spirit is buoyed up and willing sustenance is needed and a brief pit-stop required, but brief it must be because, although there is a light shower, the musicians are probably singing by Steephurst now, which they were, but truncated by a refreshing shower. The roaming barbershop quartet (dressed in their bespoke waistcoats designed by singer-designer Alex Y) helpfully sing to the assembled marquee to help still them so I can announce the Swaziland raffle winners. Then it is OBs in the pigeon-hole cafe for a quick welcome and pep talk – will see them later at their 10th and 25th year reunions – and presentations to four long-serving colleagues who have reached the 25 year watershed – John Barker (Arts Coordinator), David McClunan (Sports Facility Maintenance Technician), John Scullion (Deputy Managing Head) and Peter Coates (Head of Outdoor Work).

The last daylight stop is to the Summer Concert where we start in the Quad with the guttural chords of Carmina Burana and end in Boys’ Flat courtyard with the delicacy of Sir John Taverner’s ThLamb. The most striking feature of the concert is the series of virtuoso performances by a quartet of outstandingly capable musicians who have given so much to school music over their four or five years. Here is Olivia B’s melodically lamenting Cleopatra; there is Daniel R, rapt with concentration over his double bass (Vivaldi’s Sonata III), Callum A, feet and hands a blur on the organ (J. S.Bach’s Toccata in F); Josh G tackling a clarinet piece designed to be of fiendish complexity to challenge the most able (Messager’s Solo de Concours) and Immy W bringing across Bernstein’s complex blend of classical pastiche and contemporary musical styles (Glitter and be Gay). A big, glad day.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


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.

Bedales’ creative pulse

Pootling round Design on the Sunday of the design BAC all in weekend brings surprise after surprise. Round the corner I go and there is Chloe Z, looking quizzical with head of design, Ben Shaw; they are looking mystified at Chloe’s fiendishly complicated on-screen design for her stage clock – which comprises a series of cogs behind a transparent surface and which will be an integral part of one of the forthcoming BAC Drama plays – no pressure! Round the next corner and school wordsmith, Chris B is standing by something I think I recognise – but, no, being a table would be too simple: it’s a lighting desk which he has designed in concert with advice from drama production and which will adorn the drama studio in due course. Wow! Mo looks on admiringly. I am only two in and we are already joining hands across the curriculum. Now here I really do find a table – a proper Arts & Crafts’ one being handsomely crafted by James G; he tells me how a mortice and tenon joint works and I caress the oak. Now we are back into a different kind of exotic as Tilly D-S talks me through her Japanese style puzzle box which is constructed very much in the De Stijl way – a melange of national influences. Ellie K is forming a sizeable, sinuous light out of plywood: this entails shaping a polystyrene mould by hand – the plywood will be moulded onto this through some ultra-crafty vacuum technique and then it will become an elegant, serpentine, stylish light. Rhea P is at a very recognisable lathe, carving her spherical, cherry wood jewellry box and having to get the two sides to match up – hand and eye stuff of the old kind, generating good old-fashioned sawdust.

Across the way, the fashionistas are hard at work (in fashion design, clearly). Poor people have to put up with my truly naive questions – what their theme/inspiration is/how it will all work/what’s it made of/can you mass-produce it? They are very patient and, yes, I am really intrigued: the creative pulse, the sense of an individual student coming up with an idea and making the idea substantial and real beats behind each piece. So here is Monty C’s plant-inspired black dress, with its shimmering blue chiffon leaves on top; there is Flora S’s New Romantics (think Adam Ant/Manchester in the 80s) play suit (think jolly cut off dungarees); Chloe J’s Mary Quant style dress is ultra elegant with its brightly coloured shoulder flashes (epaulettes? not quite); and what about Sam H’s golden goddess dress, with its golden sash round the waist? Teachers Susanna and Louise move much more helpfully and quietly amongst their charges. Hunched over her bench Daisy N is working at her mitred (another technical term bagged) corners, whilst India H’s natural fruit-sources dyes and design have a folksy appeal; Hannah B’s is on the bird theme – with the colour and plumage of a tawny owl creating a striking effect. It’s all very inspiring and heartening – great progress being made.

Finally, almost as heartening and on the theme of Britain’s place in world fashion, a fine article in the weekend FT about the revival of Harris Tweed –  featuring Donald John Mackay, who makes 27 yards of tweed a day. Now Nike, who have decided to put tweed on trainers, want 10,000 yards. Tweed manufacture is booming in the Outer Hebrides and an indigenous industry is saved. If someone had asked Adam Ant if people would one day wear tweed on their trainers, I wonder what he would have said.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales School


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.

Parents’ Day medley

Parents’ Day gives students and staff a chance to show the school’s values, achievements, buildings, grounds and relationships at their best. My day began chatting with the final shift of 6.1s in the All-Night Bake and ended, again in the Bakery, talking to a remarkably lucid (given the time of night) group of OBs at their 25 years on reunion. In between, I was lucky enough to witness a wonderful Dance display, Design and Art shows of humbling craft and creativity and, apt finale, a Summer Concert which shimmied beautifully between musical traditions but which engaged us as an audience, whether with Keir Rowe’s adaptation of Bernstein in the Quad or with a Messiaen piece in the Boys’ Flat serenade when, wonderfully,  birdsong permeated the music. Messiaen, an ornithologist who was inspired by birdsong, would have approved. As memorable as anything were the readings in the Library given by current and former students as a tribute to Graham Banks who retires from Bedales in a few days time after 33 years’ teaching here. Anyone who has doubts about the long term impact of great teaching would have had those doubts quelled by those readings and accompanying student testimonies.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


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.