The imminent launch of a new appeal to bolster the War Memorial Fund, a major reunion to be held at Shebbear in May and a call for former pupils to return more frequently to their old school put the OSA firmly in focus at the 2005 Reunion Dinner held at the RAF Club in Piccadilly in January.
It was fitting that the occasion attracted an impressive 94 members and guests, including many of the younger generation and more old girls than ever before. Opinion was that it was one of the best reunions in recent years.
The warmest of welcomes was accorded to Lady Vane (Daphne Page, daughter of the much-loved late Jackson Page, boy and master at the school for more than 40 years). Daphne was only the second girl to attend Shebbear.
She was presented with an OSA tie which she said she would be privileged to wear. Old Shebbearians stood in silence in memory of those known to have died during the past year – Phyllis Johnson, widow of former headmaster Leslie Johnson, John Comyn, Roy Annis, Horace Moore, Peter Allin, Sam Winzer and Peter Smoldon.
Grace was said by the Rev. Geoffrey Wrayford.
Proposing the toast to Shebbear, President Mike Johns said that on his visits to school he had always been received with warmth and friendliness, proving that old habits remained.
He had attended a staff and sixth form variety evening in March which had ranged from “serious music to flouncy Greek farce”, Speech Day in July and the BBC’s Any Questions? programme from the Sports’ Hall in the Autumn.
He recalled how in response to a question on the Hunting with Hounds issue, the Secretary of the Police Federation had said that police resources would be stretched when the Bill became law.
Yet, he chided, the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary had managed to send 35 police constables, two Inspectors, four Special Branch officers and some private security guards to Shebbear “and even they could not stop us delaying Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, from getting into his car!”
The Holly Ball in December had been an excellent and incredible evening.
He urged all Old Shebbearians to encourage others to attend OSA meetings and reunions.
Responding Bob Barnes, Headmaster, said it was a great privilege to be at the dinner once again. “My fifth such occasion – and it gives me just as much pleasure this time as it did on the first. There are 94 of us here tonight – a record for this venue. There are more girls than ever before, and looking around I have actually taught four and a half tables of Shebbearians”
He said that in the past he had spoken of “the Spirit of Shebbear”. The spirit was strong and still growing. “As we have got stronger and stronger over the last few years, so we have taken the opportunity to develop the college.
“Academically results remain good – they always will. I do not believe in league tables so I am not going to quote facts and figures to you because they do not tell you what the individual has achieved or how the individual leaves college not just with a piece of paper but everything else that has been bestowed on them by attending Shebbear.”
“When they leave they do so with a sense of what is right and wrong, with character and with a sense of self worth which is worth more.
“And that is a great credit to all. We have a big team. Not just teachers, but secretarial, bursarial staff, the kitchen, cleaning and ground staff, The Friends, Old Shebbearians – everyone who contributes. All of us are working together to produce something that brings us back and makes this reunion grow. You can’t always put that down on paper but you can always feel it.”
He said pupils were interested in the OSA, interested in its history, “interested in you as a group and interested in meeting every one of you as individuals if you were to come to the college.”
The school’s biggest task was to try to instil its pupils with inquiring minds. “An inquisitive mind is essentially what we are trying to build into all our pupils, not just on their academics but about life in general, to ask the question ‘why?’ all the time.” Examination results were good, continually good, but that was not the only aim. “Financially, the college has gone through a revolution. I can report to you that for the second year in succession we have been the best school in the Methodist group. Financially we are the strongest. Now that is something to be really proud of because we are doing it at a time when we are spending the most money in the group on refurbishment.
“That gives me great pleasure because it is about providing the best facilities for all our pupils that should be the essential goal of each and every one of us in this room and at college.
“This year we have put in a recording studio, we have built an extension to the junior school which has an up-to-date IT suite upstairs and new changing facilities downstairs.
“And for those at the older end for whom the quad was a focal point during your career at Shebbear, we have replaced all the windows in the quad with double glazing and in keeping with the originals and we will be doing the surface of the quad later on in the year.
“We are refurbishing the tennis courts and in particular have been working on the boarding houses which are now becoming more and more plush. Carpets, heating that works and breakfast that runs up to 12 o clock on Saturday and Sunday …” when silence returned to the assembly, Mr Barnes went on: “We do realise its important to get away from Shebbear, to see a wider world, so this year we have run more sports and other trips than ever before. We have been on a ski trip to France with 43 pupils, we have been on football and netball tours to Holland, we have been on art trips to Paris, we have been on french activity trips, and we are planning rugby and netball tours to Canada next year.
“And like my predecessor we are desperately trying to get the name of Shebbear into the wider area of the country. Any Questions? was very successful. We got lots of positive comment from all over. We are also bringing international stars to college. Kevin Montgomery, an up and coming country singer from America has been and is coming back again.
“But what pleases me most of all is that having been calling for Old Shebbearians to come down and visit this year Mike Heath is organising a reunion that will bring old boys back. They will be provided with accommodation over the May half-term. It is good to see the link because we do not see enough Old Shebbearians coming back. You cannot be allowed to remain away from the college. You need to keep contact with us.”
The toast to the OSA was proposed by Imogen Giddy, Head Girl, and Rob Wade, Head Boy.
Replying Mike Heath, said he could not believe that it was 40 years since he and his contemporaries were their age but “my lot, our crew, our 1958-65 group” were having a reunion at Shebbear on May 28.
“Finding old contemporaries around the world, often with the Internet, is so rewarding. They light up like light bulbs and are delighted to have been contacted. They are on board and up for the reunion.
“One of the things that my lot got wrong was losing touch with each other and the school. And the school lost touch with us. And as we search for lost friends, we have been dismayed to find that too many have already died, all far too young. What a pity we were not in touch when we could have been. We got it wrong.”
Former President and Trustee of the War Memorial Fund, David Shorney announced that Holly Thomas, studying pharmacy at Bath University, was the recipient of this year’s award. Appropriately, he called upon Lady Vane, whose late husband Sir John Vane was one of Britain’s most distinguished pharmacologists and a winner of a Nobel Prize for Medicine, to make the presentation. Then he outlined plans to launch a new appeal for the War Memorial Fund, founded in the depths of the 1924 recession to commemorate the 48 Old Boys killed in the 1914-18 War.
The aim would be to provide an annual scholarship or scholarships to augment those already funded by the school, to enable deserving pupils to continue their sixth form education.
Members approved the election of four new trustees: Bill Oke, Geoff Watts, the Rev. Geoffrey Wrayford and Dr Graeme Ackland, Professor of Physics at Edinburgh University, who with a double first from Oxford is one of Shebbear’s most outstanding former pupils.
With that Michael Buckingham was elected President of the OSA for 2005 and Simon Birks, Vice President. The committee was approved en bloc.