As construction of the new school gets underway, Proprietor Daniela Shanly reminisces about the early days of Beech Lodge and looks forward to creating a new kind of educational environment which will put the current pupil’s ideas at the heart of its design.
It is exactly 4 years to the day since we opened Beech Lodge School with only 5 children, 1 Head and 3 members of staff. It was freezing cold, it had snowed the night before and we were worried we would have to ferry our new young pupils up the icy lane by tractor. “Ah yes…” as the old song chimes “I remember it well….” And I do remember it well. The children were nervous, we were nervous and at the same time we were all excited about the future. Excited about this new unique journey we were embarking on, creating our unique little school in temporary premises – a hastily converted barn and excited about the opportunities that Beech Lodge would bring for our pupils. Schooldays, they say, are supposed to be the best years of one’s life, and for most of our pupils that had so far certainly not been the case. We were determined that when our pupils looked back on their time at Beech Lodge they would be filled with positive rather than negative memories.
We’ve come a long way and achieved a lot in 4 years. Now full to capacity on two sites with 26 pupils, an incredible team of over 20 full and part time staff and a long waiting list, we have learned from our mistakes and celebrated our successes. We have honed our educational model and are proud to be recognized nationally as a specialist school for children with attachment and trauma-related difficulties. We’ve even developed and launched Fagus, our emotional and social educational resource in the process – and that, if I may say, took some doing.
Unfortunately, delays caused by the lengthy 2½ year planning process meant that we were unable to fulfil the growing need for places and expand as quickly as we would have liked. However, we battled on, suffered the slings and arrows of said planning application, triumphed over adversity and are absolutely delighted to be now embarking on building our new, much larger school which will give us capacity for up to 96 pupils and should be ready for us to move in to this time next year – on our 5th anniversary.
As I sit here bringing up memories of the events of the last four years, I am reminded of the black American civil rights activist Rosa Parks who said “memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others” and this is particularly relevant this year and the sentiment is echoed in our Beech Lodge Big Build Project.
Everyone at Beech Lodge will have a say in the look and feel of our new school. Valuing our pupil voice, the Beech Lodge Big Build offers our children a unique opportunity to take an active role in shaping the new environment for themselves and for the many children just like them who will join the school in future. We have embedded the Big Build into our curriculum across the school this year and each house has been given different areas of the school to design and specify. The children have been encouraged to be bold and imaginative, research their ideas and to create a meaningful end product which will last well into the future.
In a few months, they will be presenting their ideas to a panel of professionals from the world of architecture, interior design, construction and education. Once their designs have been accepted our pupils will play an important part in bringing their ideas to life. They will be meeting with and working alongside builders, designers and contractors and will experience firsthand what jobs are involved and what goes into every stage of the design and build process. We will be regularly posting pictures and videos of the project on the Big Build Bulletin Board on our website and I sincerely hope that the experience our pupils will have of their time working on this will be extremely positive and useful to them in their future lives. It’s actual real world learning with actual real world value and that can only be a good thing.
Finally, juxtaposing the quote from the magnificent black queen of activism with one from the dreamy white queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass who said “it’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards” I kind of know what she means. For me and for Beech Lodge School, this year will be all about looking forwards not backwards, building our school and building memories for the future.