I remember coming to Badminton for the first time to look around. It was absolutely sheeting down with rain – a good West Country day! I’d driven in through the busy roads around Bristol, but as soon as I came through the gates I felt a sense of calm and peace.
Everyone I met that day was so welcoming and enthusiastic. I had that sense that lots of visitors talk about when they come here: ‘Surely this is too good to be true!’ But it wasn’t an act, and one of the parts of my day I enjoy most is walking across the grounds first thing in the morning from my house to my office and meeting and talking to the girls when they’re on their way to breakfast. Teenagers can be introspective, and mornings aren’t necessarily anyone’s best time, but the girls always say ‘hello’ and we talk about what they’re doing or what’s going on in the world.
There are lots of high points like that in my day here. I like walking over the bridge that crosses the footpath to the ‘rough patch’ where the Junior School girls play and trying to work out the games they are all playing. Lunch is always a good time. I never know who I’ll be sitting next to, and it’s energising to hear about what people are doing with their day. Also, I’m a great fan of the chocolate bread and butter pudding!
I’ve taught in girls’ schools for almost all of my career, and loved doing so. But sometimes, girls are taught that they should be focussed on outcomes, and they can be a bit too geared to please. What really caught my attention the first time I came here was that the girls weren’t like that at all. Two of the Sixth Formers showed me round. They were describing Badminton to me, and I remember that they found themselves disagreeing about something. They stopped in the middle of the path and started a discussion. They took in each other’s views and were respectful and articulate, with a genuine curiosity about what the other person thought, but they were also happy to disagree and it was obvious that they were loving the discussion itself. That was Badminton in action, and I was hooked!
We’re shaped by a tradition of not being constrained by tradition
Badminton is different from every other school I’ve worked in, and I’ve been lucky enough to teach in some wonderful places. What’s different about Badminton is how everything is connected for the girls here. Taking part in practical activities that link into their schoolwork is just the natural thing to do. The girls try everything, and they don’t feel led by convention. I’ve often reflected on where that comes from, and I think it’s to do with the school’s history. Badminton’s been through some tough times – during the second world war it relocated to north Devon and was split between two hotels making it difficult to keep the essence of the School going – but it’s had tough leaders too and I do think that spirit lives on: nothing’s out of bounds here. I get such a kick of seeing the girls here discover what it is they want to do with their lives. I remember a few years ago now we had a Sixth Former who was holding offers from some of the best medical schools in the country, but the music was her love, and she chose to go on to study in a conservatoire. Watching her set convention aside and follow her dream was an inspiring moment. And sometimes, Badminton’s history reaches out and taps me on the shoulder – picking up one of Iris Murdoch’s books and finding a postcard from her to the then headmistress, for example – and I feel that, in a way, we’re shaped by a tradition of not being constrained by tradition.
I do have to put in a word for the shopping
I grew up in the west country so it was wonderful to come back to it, but I’d never known Bristol. I’ve been surprised and excited by what a great city it is. It has some of the best qualities of London: districts of Bristol are like villages in the way that people know and support each other, and the cultural scene is so lively. There’s always something new to see. I’m grateful for Bristol’s green spaces too. I can go for a run on the downs or cycle down to the Lido. It’s a city that makes it easy to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, and it’s a lovely place for families. I do have to put in a word for the shopping too. Going down to the Triangle to get some coffee and take a trip to Sweaty Betty or Space NK is one of the ways I like to unwind.
There’s a lovely oak bench with carved leaves:
a great place for a quiet moment
Badminton has its share of great spaces. Upstairs in Bartlett House you can get a view across the lawns and the buildings that still takes my breath away. On the first floor above my study, there’s a lovely oak bench with carved leaves: a great place for a quiet moment or a good chat. And outside, there’s a strange little garden tucked away against the back wall by the dining room. It has stone pineapples and an archway with a bench seat. It’s just the right place to go and draw breath. I think my favourite time of year at Badminton is the run-up to Christmas. The Christmas bazaar here always makes me feel like the season has started, and watching the Christmas tree go up gets all of us excited. I love walking down with the girls to the carol service, and there’s always an evening when the girls come carol singing outside my house. It’s something I really look forward to.
I’m afraid the dressing up started a trend…
There are things that I will always remember about Badminton, like the year the Sixth Formers used their Creative Day (leavers’ day) to turn the whole school into Badminton Festival. Every year group was dressed up as a different genre of music (and they’d even got me at it. I came as Madonna). Assembly turned into a music awards ceremony, and just as the staff flash mob started up, the school inspectors arrived. For a moment, I held my breath, and then I realised that this was Badminton at its best, with everyone relaxed and involved and having a good time. Luckily, the inspectors agreed! I’m afraid the dressing up started a bit of trend for me, though. I’m told I made quite an entrance as Paddington at World Book Day, and I loved spending our Dahlicious Dress Up Day as Fantastic Mr Fox. I’m already planning my next costume…