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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Forty years of St Benedict’s School

GO ON, admit it, schooldays can be the best days of your life. Whether you left education last year, 10 years or 40 years ago, you can always remember the highs and lows of growing up.

St Benedict’s School is celebrating its 40th anniversary and to mark the occasion past pupils and teachers have shared their memories of the school.

Whitehaven News readers have been sending in photographs, showing just how much the school – and the fashions! – have changed over the years.

Although the anniversary marks the opening of the school at Red Lonning, pupils were previously taught at St Begh’s School. The new premises opened after the Easter break in 1971.

Past staff and pupils remember the move well. PAT KILBRIDE, former Howard House master, said: “It was a new build, we thought it was wonderful with all the open space and new classrooms. It’s three times bigger now than it was then. On moving up here I was head of the fifth form.”

The school was officially opened on October, 13, 1971. It was dedicated to St Benedict by the Right Rev Hodkinson, OSB, Abbot of Belmont.

The new facility was based on a four-house system where the first organised pastoral care system operated. Specialist teaching areas were developed throughout the school as well as a large gymnasium. It was surrounded by several playing fields and play areas.

The curriculum included subjects which are still taught today – plus a few more such as flower arranging and child care.

Mr Kilbride said as well as teaching, he enjoyed taking pupils walking and camping and helping them complete the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

He added that members of the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) enjoyed meeting together, although now it could be deemed as a bit rebellious.

Mr Kilbride said: “We had a PTA which was quite active. We had PTA dances about every six weeks in the hall. Ann (McAdam) sorted out the food and the bar.

“After about two dances, we weren’t allowed to have the bar, so we asked people to bring their own drink instead! We had some great times!”

ANN McADAM, who worked in catering at the school, says she has fond memories during her 19 years of working there. She said: “It’s lovely coming back to see people.”

SUE MARKBRIDE, née Jones, one of the first pupils to attend the school, said: “I can remember we had to go to Irish Street School for a short while as the new school wasn’t ready for us.”

Mrs Markbride has sent in a photograph of when she was a first year pupil. She said: “We are all various ages so I think this must have been a ‘school trip’ as it can’t be a year photo. Those were very happy days for me and I am sure the others will also remember those times with great fondness.”

Former pupil JACQUELINE MOORE attended the school between 1982 and 1987. She has sent in some photographs taken during non-uniform days. She says she often had her camera on these days and has captured some fun memories.

Former pupil SHARON VAUGHAN said: “I was a pupil at St Benedict’s from 1977 until 1981. Those were the days, although I count myself lucky the school had just changed the uniform from the rather ugly claret coloured pinafore/smock dress to the lovely knee-length claret skirts, hideous blue nylon jumpers. The static was awful and those blue knee high socks! But fond memories of the school. Mr Moore hasn’t changed a bit.”

SHEILA JOLLY, the deputy head teacher between 1977 and 1997, said: “It’s been absolutely fantastic to see so many people have studied at the school. The number of staff who have sent their own children to the school is wonderful.”

Her fondest memory of the school was a staff pantomime of Three Cinderellas performed for pupils.

She said: “The kids thought it was wonderful. Some of them didn’t recognise us at all. Everyone took part – it was really enjoyable.”

While ROSEMARY DENVIR, who started teaching at the school in 1972, only intended to spend four half-days there and ended up staying for years. Her husband, Philip, also taught mathematics at the school, but he sadly died in 1975.

Rosemary enjoyed teaching the pupils but remembered the staff performances were always held at the school every Christmas.

RALPH LEWTHWAITE, who taught at the school from 1961 until 1990, says he “thoroughly enjoyed” teaching at the school.

DANNY MOORE taught technical drawing at the school, and St Begh’s School, from 1968 until 1990. He said there were many funny anecdotes from over the years. “I was in one of the classrooms one day when I saw two lads trying to knock off. The next thing we saw was this chap with a bike, bringing the lads back. It turned out it was the father of one of the lads!”

DENIS KINSELLA, former head teacher, said: “I was very fortunate that I was able to work with very good staff. We wanted to create a good school.”

He praised another former head teacher JACK McCARRON, who was at the school for 18 years, for all his hard work and dedication over the years.

Former teacher BRIAN O’KANE taught at the school for 34 years and has a lot of memories of his time there. “Mr McCarron had such a calming influence and was always so thoughtful towards both staff and students.The feeling of being part of a family with a desire to improve the life chances of those students in our care.”

He added that seeing the Rev Fr David Murphy captivating a full hall of students with truly inspirational thoughts and anecdotes. “A chairman of governors with time for everyone,” he said.

He remembers being the teacher in charge of the team that won the BT Young Consumers of the Year competition in Holland in front of nearly 1,000 Trading Standards officers.

“The Sixth Form team were incredible” he said. “The chairman of BT came on stage to present the team with their prizes and quipped ‘you guys are good, but I bet a tenner no one can tell me the Trading Standards motto.’

“To which the reply was,would he like it in English or Latin? He duly lost £20, which he paid on the spot!”

Mr O’Kane added that he enjoyed working alongside “some truly wonderful intelligent and caring colleagues”.

“But the most important memories are always of the students, many kids who are now wonderful adults working and leading West Cumbria and always willing to share a laugh or a crack with those of us who may have touched their lives as they learned.”

A number of former pupils have gone on to become staff at the school.

Mr Kilbride’s daughter, PAULINE PROCTOR, now works as deputy head of the English department, while former pupil LORRAINE ALFARO, née Goodwin, is now head of English at the school.

Former pupil and current school chaplain DAVID SKILLEN said: “When I first came to work here about nine years ago, I found it difficult to call people by their first names, because I had grown up with them being my teachers.

“But I was put at ease very quickly as everyone is just so friendly and welcoming.

“The thing I love about the school is that former pupils are happy to come back as teachers. They have been inspired by teachers and want to come back to the school.”

Former pupil ROSE SHYLON, née Kelly, has been working as an administration assistant at the school for 10 years.

Her favourite memories of the school were the discos and Christmas parties.

Over the years developments have taken place at the school. In 1977 phase two of the original scheme was completed when St Cuthbert’s School at Cleator Moor was closed down and the two schools amalgamated.

St Benedict’s began to develop as an 11-16 fully comprehensive school where 16-plus pupils were still transferred to the Whitehaven Grammar School.

In September 1982, the sixth form centre opened at the school. There was also a second centre at St Joseph’s School in Workington.

The two small sixth forms thrived until 1996 and it was then decided to amalgamate them to form the West Cumbria Catholic Sixth Form Centre. This officially opened in February 2000.

Since then pupils at the school and sixth form centre have been involved in a host of community projects and fundraisers for organisations such as Fairtrade, Cumbria-Rungwe Community Link and Christian charity, CAFOD.

Head teacher Ann Brook said: “We are very proud of our school and the way in which we serve our community and we look forward with hope to the next 40 years and beyond with excitement and enthusiasm.”

Have your say

I was a pupil there from 1971 - 1975 & loved every minute. School days are the best days of your life !! Does anyone have any pics from that time ? Great school, great staff & plenty of great memories from my time there. Happy 40th to you !!!!!

Posted by Hugh Mann on 8 November 2011 at 18:57

Thought the piccys were fab, I keep looking at them and laughing, what where we like!!! its nice cos it takes you back to remebering all our mates, well done Jackie, and hope everyone is fit and well now that we have all hit the Big 40!! Remeber 40 is the new 30!! ha ha xxxx :-)

Posted by julie bristoe on 2 November 2011 at 16:58

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