What’s it like at Highfield & Brookham while we’re all away?
Nine weeks ago today, Highfield closed to pupils in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, and in line with current UK government advice. Schools have an uncanny atmosphere without children - so what’s it like at Highfield & Brookham since we’ve been away for so long? I had to make an essential trip earlier in the week and so had a peek behind the scenes...
One might think it would be silent and devoid of activity, but not so when there’s a 175 acre estate to maintain. The grounds are truly breath taking. With the absence of tiny feet, the Grounds Team have been making the most of the opportunity to re-seed eroded areas of grass that usually would have to wait until the summer. There is a hum of a distant mower as the regular mowing and weeding continues, maintaining a constant state of readiness for any day when we might return.
The cricket squares are ready to go, if we get a chance to play some cricket this term, and of course the new all-weather pitch is gleaming, ready and waiting. Head Groundsman David Ember, confesses to feeling some disappointment.
It has been a little frustrating for us as we have such beautiful grounds, all geared up for the children to play and enjoy sport. Without them it feels empty.
If you’re someone who enjoys the ephemeral carpet of bluebells sweeping through our woods each May, or the flamboyant drama of the rhododendrons along the drive, you'll enjoy the slideshow at the bottom of this page.
Making my way to the main entrance, I notice a figure on the roof of the pavilion. Lee Smales is up there renovating the weather vane that will hopefully watch over those splendid match teas again soon. I stop to use the hand sanitiser by the front door and am reminded by the sign to keep my distance from anyone I meet. Inside, the doors are kept open to avoid any unnecessary contact, and Cleaning Manager, Mary Creamer, is hard at work deep cleaning the school. The place is a quiet, and virtual, hive of activity, yet at the same time it feels suspended in time, waiting, in readiness.
Later as I’m preparing to leave, I see Maintenance Manager, David Rickwood giving the theatre doors a new coat of paint. He’s as busy as usual; there are regular checks on the water systems, daily monitoring and testing of the swimming pool and biomass plant, and a long list of health and safety compliance items among others, to ensure that the estate remains in top condition. There is so much that has to go on whether the children are here or not, he tells me.
Passing Brookham, I hear the familiar, but until now absent, sound of children laughing and playing. Our live-in Assistant Teachers are taking care of the key worker children each day while their parents carry out their invaluable work for the wider community. Remote schooling is finishing for the day now, and as a few families start to appear, I’m reminded that the site is home to no less than 14 staff and their families too.
There is certainly a different atmosphere at the school right now, but still one shaped by the DNA I recognise; the abundance of our natural environment, people giving their heart and soul, the strength of relationships and support for our community. Whenever we return, and in whichever way, the Highfield & Brookham we know awaits us, ready to become full of life once more.
I leave you with a slideshow of the most beautiful blooms around the schools at the moment.
Lydia Wetzel, Head of International Development & Strategy
Highfield and Brookham Schools