It is a great pleasure to be back at Stowe as Development Director. After ten years here, in 2015, it felt right at that time to move on. But with two daughters here – and with Stowe constantly on my mind, in truth I had never really ‘left’.
I want to start by thanking Ben Mercer, who for two years did a wonderful job running our development team and fostering connections with members of the Stowe community around the world. I was delighted to speak to Ben recently and to hear that he is enjoying his return to the financial world in the City. We wish him all good fortune!
These initial days since the start of term have been spent meeting new staff, reacquainting myself with the pace and excitement of life at Stowe – and becoming tuned to the fresh ambitions that the School has for its further development and the creation of new educational opportunities. They are bold, significant, and will help to secure Stowe’s place as one of the very finest co-educational schools in the country.
We will be taking the opportunity to tell you much more about these plans in the months ahead but by way of an immediate and brief summary:
Design and Technology: To some, ‘DT’ may conjure up notions of woodwork and metalwork, yet ‘DT’ comprises a great deal more than that. Our ambitious plans will put us at the forefront of educational and technological innovation in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and our aim is to provide academic and vocational training for pupils who will contribute significantly to the UK’s drive for creativity and expertise in Manufacturing, Product Design, Engineering and Architecture. We are fortunate to have an exceptional faculty of teachers, led by Martin Quinn who joined us at the start of this academic year. Yet few would argue that our facilities, which have stood largely untouched since the 1960s, are now in bad need of improvement. Since 2003, Stowe has embarked on a programme of expansion, renovation and educational reform and this vital project will complete the renaissance of Stowe’s academic facilities. Work is anticipated to start in 2021 – but sooner, of course, if funding permits.
Sport: The extraordinary environment at Stowe has meant that outdoor sport has always played a central part in the life and ethos of the School. Now we seek to invest in upgrading the quality and provision of our indoor facilities, giving Stoics the year-round opportunities that we aspire to for developing skills, training and simply enjoying a plethora of sports that are increasingly squeezed for available space. Exciting outline plans are emerging for the area within and around the Drayson: smaller studios and other spaces to allow multiple activities to take place at the same time and improvements to the classroom accommodation where Sport Science is taught.
Bursaries: Alongside our ongoing investment in the fabric of Stowe lies the crucial need to build an endowment that will secure, in perpetuity, our capacity to provide life-changing educational opportunity to those who need and deserve it. Our Bursaries fund does just that. I heard a couple of days ago from one recent bursary recipient – Najib Afghan, who arrived here in 2010 from Helmand province and whose life was transformed as a result of what we were able to give him. An extraordinarily driven young man, he was the winner of the Sir Nicholas Winton award for charitable work whilst he was here. Najib is now studying Entrepreneurship in the US, and few who know him would bet against Najib making a major contribution to society in years soon to come. Our fund for bursaries provides much-needed support to children from all sorts of backgrounds, but it is, of course, restricted simply to the resources we have available. We are enormously grateful to all those who are willing to provide their support for our Bursaries fund, at whatever level they are able.
Restoration of the House: Finally, the School’s centenary in 2023 provides a very specific target for the completion of our mission to restore the historic mansion to its former magnificence. It has been an immense undertaking that has brought together the finest conservators and craftsmen, architectural historians, and individual donors and grant-giving organisations whose extraordinary generosity has enabled one of the most comprehensive restoration projects of the 21st century. Now the end is tantalisingly within sight! As Anna McEvoy describes elsewhere in The Corinthian, the principal remaining fundraising and restoration challenges include the North Hall, the East Staircase, and the most significant of the remaining major staterooms – at the heart of the House and the life of the School – the grand State Dining Room.
Perhaps of greatest importance now though, is simply to say thank you once again to all those whose kindness and support in many forms has made the transformation of Stowe in recent years possible. It staggers me that, in these recent years, well over 1,000 members of our community around the world have come together to support the School and the restoration of the House. Large gifts, smaller gifts, donations of shares, bequests in wills (not just of money but of other chattels too): we have been enormously grateful and fortunate to benefit from your generosity, and are indebted to you for it. Please accept once again our sincerest thanks.
If you would like to talk to me privately about our fundraising endeavours and how you would be interested in making a difference to the future of the School, I would be thrilled to hear from you. Please do get in contact with me directly at Stowe by post, phone or email (my details are below). And of course I look forward to the chance to see as many of you as I can at Old Stoic and other events in the months ahead!