Feature: St Aidan's CE High School in Harrogate celebrates golden jubilee year
It's not every day that a school celebrates its golden jubilee, but St Aidan's CE High School is marking their special year in style.
From alumni events and concerts, to a service at Ripon Cathedral, staff and students are going all-out to thank everyone who has made St Aidan’s the thriving school and community hub that it is today.
The Harrogate Advertiser met with students past and present to reminisce about a school that holds so many fond memories for generations of families.
Peter Ingham was among the first intake of students when the school opened its doors in 1968. And Peter’s children and grandchildren have followed in his footsteps by also studying at St Aidan’s.
Peter said: “I have a lot of fond memories from my time at St Aidan’s, and it’s nice to be back walking through those doors and reliving those memories. The love, patience and care that they have shown my family over the years has been fantastic.”
And Peter’s long-lasting connections with St Aidan’s don’t stop at his children and grandchildren - he also does youth work for the school, and the skills and knowledge that he picked up as a student there have stayed with him for life.
He said St Aidan’s ‘planted seeds in his life’ that gave him the confidence to pursue opportunities with the National Youth Theatre, working with the likes of Elton John and Vanessa Redgrave, and setting up a coach company.
Hannah Ruddy, who started St Aidan’s in ‘91 and left in ‘98, said: “For me, it’s the amazing lifelong friendships I formed at St Aidan’s that has been really special, and the sense of community that the school has.
“I’ve got a really good group of friends and we’ve all stayed in touch. The wide range of extracurricular activities at the school gave me great chances to make these friends.
“It’s a fantastic school, and it keeps getting better and better.”
Brother and sister Paul King and Sandra Dunning went to the school in the 1970s. Sandra said even now, walking through the school gates gives her a “warm and fuzzy feeling,” as she remembers a fond chapter of her life.
She said: “My daughters came here as well, so there’s a real family connection. The continuity of teaching here is amazing, you still see people here now who I can remember.”
Paul said: “The kids are caring and compassionate. It’s a great community school.”
Henry Woollven, Keira Smallwood and Harrison Prout were among the group of current students who shared what they like most about their school.
One thing that kept coming up between them was the school’s range of extracurricular activities - Keira said she loves the opportunities in drama, dance and music.
Henry said there are always plenty of chances to make friends, and Harrison also likes the subject choices that are available for GCSE.
Keira said: “I think I will make friends for life here.” Headteacher John Wood has been at the helm of St Aidan’s for six years now, but his relationship with the school actually goes back 41 years, in his various teaching and managerial roles.
He said: “I believe passionately that the values of St Aidan’s will remain pivotal to the success of the school, and through all of the changes in education, we will never lose sight of what makes this school special.
“I think the school is a very caring and supportive environment, where every child is known and recognised for the particular skills they have - and that’s not just academic, it’s recognising the personal qualities that our young people have.”
Over the last 50 years, St Aidan’s has played a proactive role in the life of the Harrogate community, taking part in wider projects and events, and raising thousands for local and national charities.
John said: “I am proud of the school raising a significant amount of money for charities. We recognise that it is important to support local and national charities, and we encourage our students to play their part.
“Harrogate is a vibrant community, and schools should not be seen in isolation.” St Aidan’s has even had the royal seal of approval in its 50 years, securing a visit from Princess Anne.
Although this is a definite highlight in the history of St Aidan’s, and a special day for everybody involved, John said it’s memories of seeing students growing in confidence and following their dreams that stay with him the most.
He said: “It’s great meeting up with former students and finding out about the journey they have been on It is heartening to know that we have been part of setting them off on their journey through life, hopefully using the skills they’ve learnt with us.”
Looking ahead to the next 50 years, John said the school is hoping to secure a 3G pitch to increase opportunities for young people in sport, and collaborate more with other schools - not just in Harrogate and the district, but in the wider region.
He is also keen to see the range of extracurricular activities expand and develop even more.
Just some of the school’s proudest achievements when it comes to the physical development of the site, include extending the library, creating quiet study areas for sixth form, and developing laboratories for science.
Peter Ingham, who was a St Aidan’s student in 1968, said: “The size of the place is the biggest change over the years, but the school’s great values have always stayed the same.”
Celebrations and events to mark jubilee year
There will be a weekend of golden jubilee celebrations on May 4 and May 5 next year. On the Saturday, there will be a ‘jubilee welcome’ for all those with a connection with the school, to which alumni will be welcome, held at St Aidan’s School.
This will be followed in the evening by a jubilee gala concert at Harrogate Convention Centre from 7pm to 9.45pm, where alumni may take part in a performance or two...
On the Sunday, May 5, a special service of celebration will be held at Ripon Cathedral from 3.30pm to 5pm - the school would love to see as many parents, staff, students and alumni attending the events.