|28 May 2021|
On the 20th October 2018 I was privileged to be invited to a dinner in Gatton Hall that followed a day of remembrance to celebrate the all too short life of a former pupil, Graham Lambie, who died tragically serving his country in 1988. Thirty years on, the flame of friendship amongst the assembled group, albeit sadly brought together as a result of a terrible tragedy, was palpable. It was also blatantly evident that “coming back” meant so much to so many of the “Class of the Early Eighties”. It seemed to resonate a feeling of not so much a school more a way life. A life tragically ended too soon brought together friends who are probably not regularly at the end of a telephone call on a regular basis, who nevertheless have a strong bond created by the complexities that lie behind the simple term ‘Gatton’. These complexities would be an exercise in attempting to understand a myriad of human and social connections that would be far beyond my intellect. Suffice to say it exists as a consequence of Gatton and, within this all-encompassing name, the element of boarding and boarder must feature strongly.
Two hundred and sixty years have passed since the first Orphan Working School, one of the forerunners to RAAS at Gatton, opened its doors to become home to a dozen or so destitute orphan children in Hoxton, London. Since then, thousands of Boarders have passed through “our school” in its different identities and locations, to arrive at what seems to be its permanent residence in Gatton Park. It has been estimated that RAAS and its predecessor schools have changed the lives of more than fifteen thousand disadvantaged children. In fact, it can safely be said that our school has literally saved the lives of thousands in its care - in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the children we cared for would otherwise, at best, have been in a workhouse where statistically they would have had less than a ten percent chance of surviving to adulthood. Until as recently as 1960, all the children in RAAS were what we now call Foundationers, i.e. their board, lodging and education were all paid for by our charitable foundation, funded almost entirely from donations and annual subscriptions from generous supporters, many of whom had been raised in our care and were glad, as adults, to give back according to their means, which were frequently modest
We know from Gatton Association records of the lifelong friendships, exemplified and so visible on 20th October 2018, which had been forged many times over the years, not only here at Gatton but also at its predecessor institutions, Bishopswood Camp (Alexandra), Collingwood Court (Albert) and Maitland Park (Orphan Working School). Of course, not just friendships were forged: for many, a great many, a foundation stone was being laid to create an opportunity for a stable and solid future life.
You are probably already aware that RAAS is now a State Boarding School at which the education is provided free by the state and the board and lodging paid for by fees. However, the raison d’être of our Charitable Foundation remains the same as it has always been, to care for as many disadvantaged children as it can afford to within its limited resources. To this end, the Foundation, together with other charities, currently gives bursaries to meet the cost of board and lodging for around ninety children whose home circumstances are such that they would substantially benefit from being part of the ‘Gatton’ family but whose parent or carer cannot afford the fees. The Foundation is constantly searching for funds to enable us to increase this number.
I now return to the rather simple heading of this article, “Just Imagine if!!!!!” and I will combine this opening phrase with one of the stated objectives of the Gatton Association, “To offer support and assistance to former and current pupils” The outcome of the combination of the heading and the objective, as you would have probably guessed, is quite simple. We have an Association that has at least 1,000 participating GA members, in terms of those who regularly receive a copy of the Gattonian newsletter three times a year. Free membership of the Association is open to everyone, staff or pupil, when they leave Gatton. Put together with those still alive who went to Collingwood Court, Bishopswood Camp or Maitland Park, there are many more members than the 1,000 referred to above.
Just imagine if each member, and of course others that you know who do not realise they are GA members, decided that the objective of offering support and assistance was laudable in terms of contributing to a dedicated Gatton Association Bursary Fund to help increase the number of bursaries the Foundation can offer. What might that achieve?
What would this suggestion/request, if you find it acceptable, entail? May I propose to you that there would be great value in establishing a dedicated Gatton Association Bursary Scheme that would have the sole purpose of helping more pupils deemed to be in need of bursary help? May I also suggest that such a scheme could be developed by requesting any interested GA members (and of course any others) to make an annual subscription, paid either by direct debit or standing order, of between £10 and £50 per annum.
Alternatively, any single donation that anyone feels they would like to make would of course be very welcome. Such subscriptions and donations would be instrumental in offering aid to one or more individual pupils in need of such help. With names omitted, to ensure anonymity of those who are recipients of your generous help, contributors to the GA Bursary Scheme will be kept abreast of the progress made by the pupils so generously supported.
I think it would be true to say that in the short time I have been involved in the affairs of the Gatton Association, enthusiasm, optimism and imaginative thinking have been abstract qualities that have been to the forefront of all involved when attempting to develop initiatives and activities that will bring members of the Association closer together as well as offering a helping hand to a place where so many have benefitted in so many ways. Allow me to return to one of the connected abstracts and say, “Just imagine if” five hundred of us were able to contribute £10 per year, two hundred and fifty could afford £20 per year, and two hundred and fifty gave as much as £30 per year, what a fantastic achievement that would be as you will see, the combinations could be endless and the benefits absolutely enormous!! I am sure that we are all aware of the life changing chances that have been offered by the RAAS and its predecessors over the last 260 years, to those who life did not commence on a level playing field. I am sure that you, like me, would wish for this to continue with the Gatton Association now collectively playing, through the efforts of its members, a significant part in fostering such future life changing potential.
I thank you for the time that you have taken to read this request and should you wish to be part of this initiative all the necessary details relating to the mechanics of subscription to this newly created Bursary Scheme are noted below. Should you require further information please contact the Gatton Association on firstname.lastname@example.org