One Year On in Withington’s Development Office
10 years ago I left Withington Girls' School after 11 years of being a pupil. I had a really good time at school, but I was very happy, aged 18, to be waving goodbye at the school gates and taking on the thrilling challenges that lay before me at university and beyond.
Then little over 1 year ago, I found myself behind a large desk in what I am convinced used to be the disused shower room next to the Gym, in a now fully refurbished ergonomically lit and designed office as Withington's new Development Director.
I would have told my 18 year-old self to put that last G&T down and take myself home, had the thought even crossed my mind.
So, what has this ‘homecoming' taught me? Well, many things:
1. The staff room is much much bigger inside than I thought it was.
2. The teachers really don't discuss pupils over coffee and lunch (they were telling the truth)
I'm just teasing. The whole transition has brought with it revelations I would not have imagined. I really enjoy working here. I love the fact that, as Director of the Bursary Appeal, this job allows me to bring my beliefs about fair access to opportunities for young people to my old school which in part helped develop those sensibilities. It has been oddly cyclical.
So, a year on – what have I done? Well, I took the helm from Helen O'Donnell, another former pupil who left the 100 Plus Bursary Appeal in a good state and I am ever grateful to her for that. I inherited a wonderful assistant in Mrs Spurgin, whom I remember as a formidable yet friendly blonde presence in the School Office who once delivered a stemmed rose to me in the Common Room as my forbidden boyfriend waved at me forlornly from the railings after walking all the way from MGS. In the rain. Marj, as I have come to know and love her was invaluable to me in my first year working here as an astute and knowledgeable help and guide. I also appointed a fantastic Development Officer in Laura Holderness, not an old girl, but one who now knows the ins and outs of our school as good as any!
I was charged with bringing the 100 Plus Bursary Appeal through the recession and helping to garner further support as we strive to fully support over 100 girls in school on a means tested Bursary place every year forever. Had I realised what impact Britain's negative economic growth would have had on donations nationwide, I might have thought again before signing on the dotted line..
It has been a year full of challenges but I am delighted to say that we have really come through it – not just OK but quite well. With the support of my Development Team and excellent Governors and Trustees who have supported my aims since the beginning, the Appeal total now stands just shy of £1.7 million. Far from the predicted slump, many donors who care about Withington's Bursary vision swum against the tide and supported the Appeal through both fair and foul weather. This is a very rewarding process to be part of and I thank those hundreds of fellow Alumnae who donate to the Appeal and anyone who is considering it. We quite simply could not do it without you.
Then there is my work with Monica Hastings and our wide network of over 3000 Withington Onwards (formerly Senior Club) members, which you are all part of. With support from Laura I am now talking daily with other old girls in a variety of ways, through the website whose Alumnae news pages are updated practically daily and, since we catapulted WGS into the ‘Noughties', now with Alumnae pages on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, through instant messaging. We launched the first ever Alumnae Census to find out what you have all done since leaving school and we redesigned and edited the Withington Onwards magazine with new features and stories which has gone down very well.
Former pupils regularly revisit school and I take them on a tour, through which, I have met people from South Africa, Canada, Australia and beyond engaged in activities as far ranging as international opera-singing and Fashion design to Physics lecturing and entrepreneurship. I enjoy connecting former pupils with each other and providing a service through events and networking opportunities. If an Alumna tells us what they want we try to find a way to provide it if possible.
I have mentioned being part of the process of the Bursary scheme. When I say this, I do not just mean the process of being an active part of someone's desire to help another generation of young women come into their own through a donation. I mean also that when I pop to lunch or to a meeting I will spot a girl in the corridor with her bag slung over her shoulder, hockey stick or violin in hand animatedly chatting with her best friend, on her way to a lesson or to the bus – or whatever it might be. The Bursary scheme at Withington is proof of great opportunity sought and provided. That chatty girl is walking the same corridors that I used to and will benefit from the same myriad of opportunities whilst at school, but possibly even moreso afterwards when she realises what an education here can bring to fruition in adult life, as I did.
This is a great process to help facilitate as a former pupil. This is added to all the other interesting experiences that come with being a staff member here, among which is, not least, the opportunity to eat Mrs Cartledge's scones and Cornflake Tart all over again!
The old adage ‘time flies when you're having fun' is certainly true in my case, it is almost exactly a year since I joined Withington as the Development Officer and the months have whistled past at an alarming rate!
My first visit to Withington was of course my interview, a day-long affair which was both thrilling and daunting at the same time. It was hard to know what to expect, especially when an ‘informal chat' with the Headmistress and Deputy Head, and lunch in the staff dining room, were both part of the day's program! I recall nerves getting the better of me at lunchtime and barely taking a bite, despite the mouth watering selection on offer – I can assure you that I have been making up for this every day since then! I left School feeling quite positive about my progress, but it was to both my surprise and delight that, the next day [co-incidentally, my birthday], Clare rang to offer me the role. Many Happy Returns indeed!
Waiting outside Mrs Pickering's office for my ‘informal chat', on the day of my interview, it struck me how purposeful the girls were, and what a happy atmosphere Withington had. That first impression hasn't really changed – the girls navigate the corridors with energy and determination, brimming with confidence and ‘can-do' spirit. The number of times one is waylaid in the corridor to buy a raffle ticket/go to a cake sale/vote in their mock election attests to that fact! It makes for a great working environment, the only potential problem being getting in the way of those afore-mentioned girls when returning to the Development Office with a hot cup of tea!
My first introduction to Alumnae came at the Swinging Sixties event in May 2009, when I'd been at School for just over a month. It was a brilliant, if very busy day, and a wonderful opportunity to start to get to know the School's Alumnae community, and although I had remarkably sore feet at the end of it, it was most definitely worth it! It's great to be able to spend time planning and preparing for Alumnae events, so that when we welcome Old Girls back to School we can make sure they thoroughly enjoy their day, and it's one of my favourite parts of my job.
Since that event, there have been lots more reunions and projects to keep me occupied – we've re-designed the Alumnae section of the website, produced the latest [and biggest ever] edition of Withington Onwards, completed our first ever Alumnae census, hosted the 2009 Withington Onwards AGM here at School, and attended an exclusive Alumnae film screening of Dorian Grey in London, in aid of the 100 Plus Bursary Appeal. Inbetween all of that, I've been speaking with lots of you on the telephone and by email, keeping up-to-date with your news and making sure that our Alumnae database is 100% correct. It's been a very busy year!
Attending my first Founders Day, in October 2009, I was struck by how lucky we are to be part of such a School's great history, and how lovely it is to be part of such a community. Working in a school is a very different to any other workplace I've ever experienced – just this week, lunchtime was shared with three ‘Tudors', who were in school as part of the Junior History Day and who were kind enough to show me the daggers stashed on their belts. One certainly learns to expect the unexpected when working here!
Clare mentioned participation in the extra-curricular side of School at my interview, but little was I to know that she intended to pass the baton of involvement in the annual Staff Strictly Come Dancing contest directly to me! Despite my protestations, I can assure all Alumnae that my inner performer has now fully emerged! Being able to get join in with the life of the School – attending concerts, assembles, and special events such as the Art Masterclass we held here last week, has been a real treat, sometimes it hardly feels like work at all!
So, my first year here at Withington has been both action-packed and ‘event'-full, and not one I'm likely to forget in a hurry. Looking forward to the next year, the high point on the calendar will be the 120th Anniversary reunion being held here at School on 19th June, for which we are now busy preparing. It's shaping up to be a truly great day, with lots of activities and mini-reunions, and most importantly, lots of Mrs Cartledge's legendary Withington scones. I hope to see you there.
Marj, Clare and Laura – Withington's lean, mean Development Team!