“Some of us think holding on…”

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”

Hermann Hesse

I suppose that it was inevitable that there would be a moment or two of uncertainty, that comes with the territory when you have the opportunity to work with a street artist. This week some pupils from both elements of the school met with Stéphane Bausch (renowned artist) to collaborate on the creation of a mural concerned with the COP26 gathering in Glasgow. Stéphane is a charismatic individual, and he was introduced to us by KPMG, who funded the project. Creating the work was only one part of the enterprise, the time lapse film gives an idea of his creative process – so far so good. Artist, paint and canvas, what could possibly go wrong? The uncomfortable bit came next. Pupils were invited to express their thoughts and feelings about the environmental crisis and then write over the original work. For Stéphane this is an essential part of the process, young people and other people have to sign up and take responsibility for their thoughts, they have a duty to communicate their emotions, and the canvas is the place to do it. So, there we were, groups of pupils with pens, and they had been given licence to write what they wanted. Literally anything. What could possibly go wrong? Levels of engagement were high as were levels of excitement. What became clear very quickly was the level of commitment and the level of anger about the climate situation. Some expressions spoke of frustration, others sadness, a few were hopeful. Some were expressed through sketches, a few formally and one or two in, shall we say, the vernacular. But as an adult, I was struck by the energy that was in the process, perhaps COP26 would achieve so much more if we stopped planning for the coming generation and let them sort out what needs to be done. There is most certainly a will.

Similarly uncomfortable for a Head who likes to be in control was the next part of the endeavour. The canvas was shipped to the Residence of the British Ambassador to be seen by guests of KPMG who were raising awareness of corporate responsibility for climate change. The assembled CEOs had the mural explained (not to a script approved by me) but by our students. The captains of industry wrote their comments. It seems that there is a universal language of graffiti as an act of protest. As the guests had their meeting, the pupils divided up morsels of the canvas and framed each one to give to the guests as a promise to consider the future. A large piece was requested by the British Ambassador, and we look forward to seeing it displayed in the embassy. Once again I was reminded of quite how capable young people are and that we do them a great disservice when we underestimate them.

This week also saw us mark Remembrance Day. My thanks to Nicolas Lo who went to play The Last Post at the Embassy, to our Head Girl who read Simon Armitage’s poem Sea Sketches at our act of remembrance on Wednesday and to Chrissie for writing a poem for the event, the text of which is included in this newsletter. Again, a reminder that our young people are able to think about the world around them, have clear views on both the past and the future and that we as those who work with them have a responsibility to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to make the change that is required.

Nicholas Hammond