I hope that this correspondence finds you well.
There is plenty on the academic side of life in this bulletin, so I will just write a few words, if I may, about the non-academic. To say it has been an interesting week at school would be rather an understatement – every week in this last month and a half seems to have thrown up its new and unusual challenges, which seem to become more bizarre by the day! Thank you so much to all those people (about 150 in total) who have spent (so far) over 1,750 hours opening Captain Tom’s birthday cards. We could have filled three or four Great Halls with them all, but what you saw on the front page of the Times on Tuesday was a nice display of as many as we could set out. As you can see from the attached, we sent Tom (via Benjie) a large photo of the Hall – the point of the display had been to show him as many of the cards in one place as we could, and he was happy to receive it (though I think his England cricket cap may have run close in his affections?). The main challenge at school has been social distancing, so we have had separate up and down staircases, and in and out doors; people have opened cards in the Great Hall, in classrooms, in the Dining Hall and the Langham Cricket Pavilion. This is, no doubt, a useful test run for when schools do eventually come back, whenever that might be (a little more below on this). The most memorable cards were sent home to Tom himself; and we uncovered an extra £60,000 in the cards themselves. The stamps have all been clipped in their thousands from the envelopes by a remote team of Biddenham workers led by Chris Jones and his wife, and latterly by boys and their families in Bedford as well. Mrs Spyropoulos has liaised with charities and both the RNIB and St John’s Hospice in Moggerhanger will benefit from these stamps to raise much needed funds.
Many tributes, physical and visual, have been paid to Captain (now Colonel, of course) Tom. We sent him our own birthday message in the form of a musical tribute, as boys from the school, staff and OBs played the wonderful ‘Wellesley’, the regimental quick march of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in which Tom served during the Second World War, moving into Happy Birthday. If you’ve not heard it already, it’s truly special and you can view the film here. Well done to the inimitable Andrew Groom and his team of musicians for putting it together.
Finally, on this front, it has been a truly global story. It was odd to receive a text from one of my brothers in Sydney to say he had just seen us on the television (!); but we have in fact had messages from OBs and current boys all over the world saying exactly the same thing, from New Zealand, through China, into Germany and out to the US. I mention this because I hope that you may also be following our school Thought for the Day. This weekend we have had the first in a short series of ‘postcards’ from around the world. I found it fascinating, and humbling, to listen to our boys overseas in a wide range of locations telling us all what it is like back home, reacting in differing ways to the same issues that we all face together as a planet. It is such an advantage (for all of us) to be part of a boarding school in this day and age, and to benefit from friendships and connections (both amongst the current pupil body and the Old Bedfordian Club) all over the world. If you are reading this from outside the UK, then we are all so excited to hear from you and your boys.
Some of the novelty of remote learning will be wearing off now and I do hope that your boys (and by extension, I suspect, households) are falling into a manageable routine. We realise that this is a challenge for everybody. Do please keep feeding back to us, not just the positive (though your response has been hugely uplifting – thank you!) but also any suggestions you may have for our improvement. We will be asking the boys for feedback again shortly and we will send a more formal ‘survey’ to all parents next week. We will try to respond dynamically to what we learn from you and them (and our own staff, who are also being surveyed again). Thank you to Sam Baldock and his team for the extraordinary hours they are putting in to make the online learning as useful and as effective as they can.
We have had our first meetings about the logistics of re-opening. I ought to stress that nobody knows when this will be, or indeed how it will be managed by the government (though evidence from other countries suggests a phased re-opening is likely, with younger age groups prioritised). I don’t think that anybody is expecting anything before half term – and it may be much later, of course. I have as much/little information as you do. However, it is important to be prepared, and I must say that the logistical complexities are very significant, hence daily planning meetings currently. It seems that some preliminary statements will be made by the PM next week.
Lastly, the BBC is putting out a documentary on Friday night at 9.00pm on VE Day. There is apparently a likelihood that we will be in it in some form. I have said this sort of thing to people at other times this week and it has never materialised, so please do feel free to take this ‘head up’ with a pinch of salt!
I wish you all well for the week ahead.
With kind regards,