Leaving the Harbour
Good morning and a heartfelt welcome to you all. I cannot begin to tell you how nice it is to have you all gathered once again in one place. To be speaking to you in person, rather than down the lens of a Zoom camera.
Please let me begin by extending a very warm greeting to all who are new to the School this year; those in the Lower Fourth, those who have joined the Sixth Form, others who have changed schools at different levels and, of course the dozen new teachers who now grace the Common Room seated behind me.
When enrolling or appointing you all over the past year, I repeatedly made the promise that this is a place of purpose and pride, of tolerance and of teamwork. May you all find it so, in this first week and those that follow.
For those newcomers, this Routh Assembly will be your first. However, thanks to the intrusion of the pandemic over the past 18 months, it is also the first proper assembly for many others who may been at the School some time. Almost half of you have only experienced webinars or single year group assemblies until now. Let me take a moment, therefore, to share with you all, the purpose and the expectations of this weekly gathering.
Routh Assembly is named after one of Bromsgrove’s greatest Headmasters, Robert Gordon Routh, who led the School from 1912 – 1931. Meaning he was Headmaster throughout the First World War, keeping the School united during that period of terrible tragedy. If we think that the pandemic has been tough, we only need to look at the challenges Mr Routh faced to see what a real crisis looks like. He was a great man who loved and built much of the School we enjoy today. If you want to see what he looked like, his portrait hangs in pride of place in the Old Chapel.
Not surprising then, we remember and honour him still. He is the “Gordon” in Wendron-Gordon and in Gordon Green. And of course, the “Routh” in Routh Concert Hall and in the name of this assembly. He was famous for uniting the School, just as Routh Assembly is intended to do.
So that is the name. As to the purpose? Well, Bromsgrove is traditionally a very busy place, and between your commitments in Houses, classes, sports teams, performance groups, service activities, or just socialising with your friends, it is easy to miss all that may be going on. And so, we make time, once a week, to stop whatever else we are doing and to gather here together as an entire School family. First thing Monday morning, before we all get absorbed in other things. A chance to share one collective experience each week.
The format is quite traditional too. I will usually have a few ideas to put to you at the start, a thought for the week ahead. You may not necessarily always agree with what I say from up here, but the intention is only to get you thinking. I will also enlist your help in setting the scene, by asking one of you to open the assembly with a reading. That means about 30 of you will get that chance to speak publicly in the year ahead, and I thank you for that in advance. Not always an easy thing to do, but character building and good service to the School.
We then use the opportunity each week to publicly acknowledge your many successes and talents. It is during Routh that we make presentations for individual accomplishments and team triumphs. Wherever possible, I will invite those who deserve our praise to come forward, sometimes to collect a trophy or certificate, sometimes for a handshake. Always for our collective applause.
And a little tip about that applause, for those who have not been to a Routh Assembly before. Clapping only please; there is never any cheering or calling out. Routh is a formal and respectful ceremony and it is our tradition to applaud politely but warmly. Also, unless you are asked to do otherwise, we clap from the time a person is invited forward until they receive their award.
Any presentations are then followed by a quick review of the highlights of the previous week, and then by a preview of the important events of the week that lies ahead. And finally, I will invite you to stand and we say the Grace together.
That is how Routh works, so let us get started.
Those of you who had an eye on the news over the past few weeks may have followed the progress of Hurricane Ida, the latest mega-storm to hit the United States. You will know that it caused widespread destruction and a tragic number of deaths as it tore up the country inten days of chaos. Ida came ashore in Louisiana and rampaged all the way up the Eastern states, even claiming lives in New York. There was no escape.
The problem with hurricanes, especially those huge ones that strike Central and North America every year in late Summer, is that it isn’t easy to move out of their way. They go where they want to go and, although you might be able to evacuate yourself beforehand, you can do nothing to keep your livelihood, your house or business or farm or possessions, from being hit. If you live on land that is in a hurricane’s path, you have few options.
It is a bit different if you are at sea though. In the days before Ida struck the American coast, the massive storm was forming out over the Gulf of Mexico. Sucking up energy from the ocean, and driving huge waves and gale force winds ahead of it.
There were plenty of people in its path there as well, but the difference was, they could move. The Gulf of Mexico was peppered with boats of every size and shape last month. Pleasure craft, cruise liners, container ships, yachts, super yachts, oil tankers, even oil rigs. Yet they all heard the early warning alerts and scrambled to get out of the way. Seized the chance to up-anchor and make for a place of safety. Usually, headed for a port. A safe harbour, in which they could drop their sails, power off their engines, batten down the hatches. Whatever their purpose had been out at sea, their priority shifted to protecting their crew as the storm passed. Sensible. My question for you this morning though, is this: Where are those boats now?
Because thousands of boats avoiding Hurricane Ida is not a bad analogy for how we have all responded to the ravages of the pandemic. Wherever you may have been over the past 18 months, in your own homes or here in our boarding houses, in the UK or in any other country, you and your family have hunkered down in your own safe harbour. Sheltered in place.
Just like that flotilla of vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, we were all lucky enough to get some advance warning of the impending storm that COVID brought, and we took cover. You all scattered ahead of the waves of the virus, taking shelter in the sanctuary of your homes. The School was no different. Like a fully laden oil tanker, we are a large operation and we had lots of momentum when the first lockdown loomed. Yet we did well to change our course as fast as we could and moved, metaphorically, to a place of safety.
And there we have stayed, relatively untouched. Safe behind our own breakwater, made up of masks and sanitiser stations, bubbles and social distancing, Zoom and mass testing. And although I know some of you have contracted the virus and others have struggled with being so isolated for so long, by and large, we have all weathered the COVID storm.
More than weathered it, in fact. We slowed down as a School, but we did not sink, and we did not stop. Although you have missed an awful lot over the past 18 months, the one thing that did not suffer is your academic education. Your teachers did a superb job in maintaining your studies and you responded brilliantly. That should give you great confidence as you start this new year.
The pandemic is not completely over, of course, and we should spare a thought for those who are still struggling with it. But here in the UK at least, the worst appears to be behind us, and the clouds are breaking.
But back to my question: where are all those boats that fled the Gulf of Mexico today? When I was training as an Outdoor Instructor at the Outward Bound adventure school many years ago, there was a quote painted on the wall of our dormitory. It was intended to be the last thing we saw each night, and our first thought each morning, as we set out on the new day’s challenges. It said:
“A ship in the harbour is safe,
but that is not what ships are built for.”
Those words were meant as a daily challenge to test ourselves, our bodies and our minds. A reminder that we were designed to live life, not hide from it. Encouragement to have confidence to strike out from the comfort of those barracks every morning and seize the day.
I believe that same sentiment is equally applicable here, now. For each of you and for the School as a whole. We have sheltered safely from the pandemic over the past 18 months. Scaled back our operation, set anchors, lowered our sails a little. In the pandemic harbour we created, Bromsgrove has indeed been safe. But that is not what we were built for. Not what you are here for. Nor these talented people behind me.
Bromsgrove School has a reputation that stretches back over five centuries. A reputation for excellence and energy in everything we do. A tradition of aspiration and applying ourselves to all that is offered. Academic study, sport, service, performance. Any of it and all of it. We are known for our sense of purpose, a culture of enthusiastic engagement. And it is time we lifted our anchors, hoisted our sails, and got back on that course once more.
Not recklessly. The COVID seas are still a little choppy and we will continue to be careful. But we were not built to sit at anchor any longer. We owe you all the School career that you came here seeking. The education, the experiences, the chances to excel. And that all restarts now.
“A ship in the harbour is safe,
but that is not what ships are built for.”
Today we set sail once more.
National Sports Representatives
I would like to invite the following to come forward to receive our congratulations for securing International sporting selection:
Ollie Davidson, Scotland Cricket,
Issy Eaton, England Netball,
Amber Langford-Fennell, England Winter Sports
Isaac Bridge, England Hockey.
Equally worthy of our congratulations are three Upper Sixth Formers who have been successful in their quest through the Army Scholarship scheme. Hamish Cross, William Evans, and Sophia Eaton have all secured a confirmed place at the Royal Military Academy, Sandurst, next year. Special mention goes to Sophia, who has been awarded an Army Officer Scholarship. I invite all three forward to receive our applause.
Congratulations to our Tennis team of Josie Ward, Alice Wilson-Marsh, Lily Boersch, and Kiyyah Grant, who played superbly and finished a creditable 8th place at the National Tennis finals.
Well done also to the U17 cricket team, who travelled to Sedbergh last Tuesday to play in the national quarter final. They played extremely well, winning by 75 runs, and we wish them all the best when they play the semi-final against Rugby School this afternoon.
Could I also acknowledge the remarkable number of Bromsgrovian’s who played county cricket this summer:Tom Cosh, Freddie Fallows, Olly Davidson, Elliot Small, Ellie Anderson, Charis Pavely, Jack Warner, Archie Greaves-Hall, Fred Hanson, Seth Rogerson, Lucas Ingram, Tom Astle, Nathan Jukes, Isaac Bridge, Owais Iqbal, Alastair Ritchie, Jenny Fallows, Harry Ingram, Scarlet Preston, Holly Davidson, Will Broadhurst, Thomas Richardson and Flynn Dathan. Well done to all and great to see our girls so well represented in that list.
We acknowledge Alanna Pullen, Maddy Mcleod, and Issy Eaton, who all attended the England Roses academy over the break. Also Jess Monthe, on her selection for the England Roses academy defence positional day, and Katie Rolph who was selected for the Wasps U17s squad. All of which suggests that we have another season of spectacular Netball success to look forward to this year.
Zach Armstrong and Ollie Dieppe represented Herefordshire and Worcestershire in the English Schools Athletics Championships, whilst Lara Sievert competed in the German National Finals in the 1500m.
Amy Pinfield, who was the Black Country Saddles National Finals Champion at the Pony Society Championships, and will now go on to compete in the Horse of the Year show.
Emelia Moberley is commended for representing the Mercia Lynx at the Futures Cup.
Congratulations to Lili-Rose Hunt, who won the U16 Golf Faldo Series Girls South Open and now qualifies for the World Finals in UAE next month.
And finally, proving that sport wasn’t the only endeavour over the Summer, congratulations to Isla Chattin, who was cast in the role of Babs in the production of the ‘Night the War Ended’ and is also part of the British Youth Music group.
All staff and pupils will have individual photographs taken today.
Individual music lessons commence this Wednesday. Please check timetables and emails for times. If you have not yet signed up for these, please visit Routh Hall and speak to one of the Music staff as soon as possible.
All Music clubs, orchestras, bands, and activities begin next Monday 9th, apart from Chapel Choir that starts this Wednesday. Normal rehearsal at 12.50 in Chapel. Newcomers are welcome to join in and to bring a friend.
A reminder that the first School Service of the year will be held this Friday, meaning a change to the normal routine for the day. Lessons 1-5 as normal, then the School Service, with Activities/Games following at 4.15pm.
We welcome performances back on Cobham Theatre stage this term, with this year’s senior production being the musical “Guys and Dolls.” Auditions, which will begin this week, are open to those in the Fifth Form and above, and Mr Norton is looking for a large cast of actors, singers and dancers. Please email him by the end of school tomorrow if you would like to audition.
And finally, the welcome return of our traditional sporting fixtures, with a large number of Hockey, Badminton and Rugby matches this Saturday.
So, as the School heads out of its COVID harbour and builds up a head of steam once again, I wish you all the best possible start to your year ahead. Just remember, protection from the virus may come from a jab of vaccine in the arm, but protection from the impact of the pandemic on your lives will only come through a daily injection of determination on your part.
I now invite you to end Routh Assembly in the traditional manner, by standing to say the Grace together.