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News > School Updates & Achievements > 'Old Gym' to New Sixth Form Centre

'Old Gym' to New Sixth Form Centre

The school received an honouring and exciting visit from her Royal Highness Princess Anne
8 May 2020
Written by Honey Barras
United Kingdom
School Updates & Achievements
The school received an honouring and exciting visit from her Royal Highness Princess Anne
The school received an honouring and exciting visit from her Royal Highness Princess Anne

May you live in interesting times’ is an old Chinese curse and recent years have certainly been interesting for Cranbrook School. It has ridden the earthquake of austerity, BREXIT, government funding cuts, budget cuts, subject cuts and general dismay, rolled up its sleeves, cocked a snook at the lot and got on with the business of thriving.

In this difficult and uncertain political climate, only the most intrepid of school communities would have embarked on an ambitious programme of expansion and fundraising. But Cranbrook is a uniquely community-based school. Formed out of the generosity of Cranbrook residents 500 years ago, embedded in the heart of Cranbrook, with its grounds open and welcoming to community members and its pupils, day and boarder alike, enriching the local ecosystem, it continues to reinvent itself to stay relevant to the community it serves.

In September 2017, the school opened its doors to 30 Year 7 pupils for the first time in circa 40 years. This has provided much-needed optionality for local families with children in the state school system. With the old sixth form centre becoming the new Junior School Hub (with cage) the sixth formers needed a new home. With budgets already at breaking point, how to give our sixth formers a base which re ects and acknowledges the marvellous contribution they make to school life, a place which would be a stepping stone to life after school?

Undaunted by the difficult circumstances, the Headmaster, Governors and Trustees of Cranbrook School embarked on an ambitious fundraising programme to raise £750,000 to transform the Old Gym into a new state of the art Sixth Form Centre, a facility in the heart of the school that could provide the base for a national leader in sixth form provision. A motley team of OCs, parents, past parents and Governors was recruited to head up the fundraising. Tuesday nights were spent plotting, admiring Dermot’s sartorial elegance and developing the thick skin required to go out into the astonished school community and ask for those two most difficult things: your hard earned cash or your precious time.

Despite the challenges of raising an enormous sum from a community feeling the pinch of subject cuts, the campaign hit its target sum and amazingly no one from the Campaign Board needed therapy. Architects and contractors were instructed and work began to transform the Old Gym. By start of term September 2017, the new centre was ready for business. With its interior gorgeously fitted out by Space Workplace (aka parent Gareth Jordan), it is an extraordinary facility and one that is being fully enjoyed by students.

There is a kind of beautiful symmetry in the new Sixth Form Centre being built from funds raised from the community, when Cranbrook School itself was a community gift, as were Rammell Field, the sports pavilion and so much of the jewellery that adorns it. Symmetry too in the new facility being opened by Princess Anne (a Benenden old girl and frequenter of socials at Cranbrook School) almost 450 years after Queen Elizabeth I visited Cranbrook and secured the school’s future by signing the Letters Patent or royal charter. Needless to say, Princess Anne’s train did not get stuck in any Wealden clay as Queen Elizabeth I’s carriage is reported to have done. The Princess Royal seemed genuinely surprised to see the original royal charter on show in a school library rather than a museum, and touched to receive a photo of her grandmother on her own visit to our school from a beaming pair of Year 7s.

Yet more symmetry in the precious Memorial Arch to the school’s war dead receiving some tender loving attention and restoration in time for the 100 year celebrations of the WW1 armistice this year.

And as if that wasn’t fabulous enough, to top it off the new building was nominated for an architectural award. As Theodore Roosevelt said ‘Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty’. Out of adversity the new Sixth Form Centre has been a stunning success for Cranbrook School.

On Tuesday 12th June 2018 the school received an honouring and exciting visit from her Royal Highness Princess Anne. In Headmaster, Dr Weeds’ words he describes it as an ‘absolute honour’ and an ‘amazing privilege, one which could not be copied or replicated in the future’.

Prior to the Princess’s visit, Dr Weeds admitted to our reporters that he felt very nervous and excited and didn’t quite know what to expect. However, Dr Weeds told our reporters that Princess Anne put him at ease right away and was a genuine, lovely, down to earth person who was a pleasure to welcome to Cranbrook School. Dr Weeds even shared that the Princess had a ‘great sense of humour’ and when rather concerned about her umbrella breaking, he told her he had plenty more and she laughed and put him at ease. Dr Weeds said he was not only honoured by her presence, but with the way it brought the whole school, Governors and the town together and how she was so closely interacting with all the students themselves. There was ‘nothing quite like it’.

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