Home Is Not Always Where The Heart Is.
This is an article I wrote for the Independent Schools Magazine:
Last year Solihull School raised £36,000 for a range of local, national and international charities, and some of our pupils were personally thanked by HRH The Prince of Wales when he recently visited the new Marie Curie Hospice. The Hospice is only a few minutes walk from our campus and we have become very involved in fundraising for its construction and day to day running, which costs an eye- watering £9,000 per day.
£36,000 is only the tip of the iceberg because not only do we raise money but we also allow a number of charities to use our facilities for their events and many of our pupils do volunteering during evenings, weekends and holidays. It is not uncommon to be served by a pupil when buying from a local charity shop or to have your bags packed when doing the weekly supermarket shopping.
So how do we select our charities? Clearly we can’t support as many as we would like, so the principles are relatively straightforward. Firstly, we aim for a balance between those on our doorstep and those further afield. Secondly, the one common characteristic is that they have a connection with the School; this could be with staff, pupils, parents or alumni. Sometimes, the link is through personal tragedy and occasionally our parents have set up a charity themselves. Examples of connections include the Ogwen Mountain Rescue, Snowdonia, where the School has a mountain cottage, and the Chilean Earthquake Appeal, a country our pupils and staff exchange with each year.
Selecting the charities is very emotive and I know we turn down many worthwhile charities each year. On average, we get 2 or 3 letters a week and most are very sadly turned away. From the annual list of requests and with the help of the (staff & pupil) Charity Committee we narrow the number down to the 12 or so we want to support. Generally, the stronger the link to the School and the more pupils, parents and staff who can get involved the better. It shares the workload and in the end means we collect more money. We do leave some room for last minute, unplanned giving to be fitted in, often funding countries in crisis. One recent pupil led initiative was a sleep-out to raise money for the homelessness charity, Shelter. Not only was this a worthwhile cause but the pupils, staff and parents involved had fun doing it, so all in all, a great success and one from which the pupils learnt a lot.
How do the pupils benefit from our fund raising exploits? The learning experience is a very strong one. Pupils enjoy own clothes days, battle of the bands and competing against the staff at sport. Those involved in setting up events learn leadership skills, money management, PR and event organisation. It is great for PSHE as it promotes internationalism and a strong moral compass. It also develops “soft skills”, encouraging pupils to communicate with other year groups and it creates a sense of unity and purpose from the Junior School through to the Sixth Form. Reserved pupils often come out of their shells and those volunteering gain valuable experience which helps them to think about future careers, such as medicine or veterinary science. One of the hardest skills is that of disappointing charities we decide not to support. Pupils come to realise that decisions can be very difficult and often upsetting, but there simply isn’t enough money or time to go around. Delivering good or bad news is led by pupils, supported by staff, and compassionate decision making is a skill that pupils will require in adult life too.
Those in receipt of funds normally come into school to deliver an assembly and sometimes a second time to receive a cheque. Pupils learn that each £20 raised buys a goat or gives a child their sight. This helps them relate to the charity and they see a direct consequence of their actions. They come to understand the importance of self-sustaining scenarios, for example, providing a goat so an individual can collect their own milk, a well so they can draw their own water, or give them sight so they can lead a normal life.
However, one of the greatest bi-products is that we all come to realise just how privileged we are. Solihull School creates pupils who are ready to lead but always with humility, compassion and integrity, and Silhillians pass through our school gates as happy, charitable, confident and intelligent young people ready to do their bit for others.
David EJJ Lloyd, Headmaster, Solihull School.