Welcoming so many visitors to the events marking the opening of the Ada Benson Building, watching the students respond to their new home and hearing the first impressions of parents and staff, the past fortnight has prompted many reflections on what a major infrastructure project such as this one really means to a school.
Above all, of course, it is a wonderful gift – the work of many heads, hands and hearts, gradually taking shape from behind its cocoon of plastic hoardings, into the beautiful complex of spaces and places we are beginning to enjoy. It is also a telling testimony to the success of the design that, from their very first day in occupation, the sixth-form students have looked entirely at home there. The industrial aesthetic combines with artful furnishing touches to create a base for the students which feels calm and surprisingly intimate.
The building was always intended to be a showcase for the creative arts and the first test of that concept at the official opening on 6 March was an early positive proof. A stunning selection of student art works was on display in the Studios, Ateliers and Design Street, alongside two Ivon Hitchens paintings, rehung to superb effect for the occasion. A fascinating exhibition of items from the Archives, curated by Ms Stott, drew plenty of attention in the Atrium, while the Auditorium screened its first première, appropriately enough under the appreciative gaze of film producer Dame Pippa Harris, with a student-made film to mark International Women’s Day.
As Dame Pippa Harris, Cheryl Giovannoni and I each lit a candle, as part of the opening formalities, to represent the past, present and future of OHS, surrounded by alumnae, friends and current families associated with the School, the power of the action as a metaphor struck home. The flame of a candle is a potentially infinite resource. A flame can light another candle without itself being extinguished. Together, their light is brighter. Similarly, the knowledge and expertise of educators is a potentially infinite resource. Passed from generation to generation, their work has the capacity to illuminate and inspire exponentially. Amidst the pleasure of the present, in what was a joyful social occasion, who would not sense the potent press of history but also the rich promise of the future as we marked another milestone in the School’s progress?