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St Elphin's School Reunion 2012...

"WOW it was brilliant"

"WOW it was brilliant" was the phrase used by those who attended the School Reunion held at St Elphin's Park (formerly St Elphin's School) on Saturday, 6th October, 2012. St Elphin's School closed in March 2005, having been purchased by a business consortium who had intended to keep the school going for at least 5 years. Unfortunately this did not materialise and Audley Court Ltd purchased the site with a view to converting it into Audley St Elphin's Park – a retirement village. The building of the Retirement Village has taken longer than expected, mainly due to the recession, and although, in 2012, major building is still taking place there are already a number of residents in situ. Further details about the Retirement Village can be found on the St Elphin's Park page.

Although it was sad for old girls to see the school being demolished it was very pleasing to see that the main school building, the chapel and Orchards block were being retained and, indeed, have now all been completely sandblasted back to their original colour, i.e. sandstone rather than black as can be seen in the above photos. Photos: top right – Doris Chan in April 2005 on the day of the auction; above left – Liz Donlan on 13th September, 2012 at the Grand Opening of St Elphin's House.

The main school building (now St Elphin's House) consists of 8 luxury apartments, Drawing Room and Library for Residents, Bistro Bar, The Orangery Restaurant, and Audley Club (swimming pool, gym, studio, changing rooms, hairdressing salon and treatment rooms etc). The chapel (now Chapel Mews) has been converted into a 2-bedroom cottage and a 2-bedroom bungalow. Orchards which was formerly a 1920's stone-built dormitory on two floors (split into very small cubicles) is now Thornton Mews and consists of 4 luxury mews cottages. Right: The Drawing Room (formerly Upper VI form room).

Planning the Reunion
In June 2011 I approached Audley with a view to holding a school reunion at St Elphin's Park in October 2012. The next 16 months resulted in numerous e-mails and meetings regarding the reunion. In the meantime, in October 2011, it was suggested that the Old Elphinians (formerly St Elphin's Old Girls' Guild) have their AGM and Reunion on the same date so that we could have one event with approximately 50 ex-pupils and teachers present! Once word got out that we were having the event at the school, interested numbers escalated. At a meeting with Audley in February 2012 it was established that the prospective numbers were too high for them to cope with and, therefore, we had to split it into two events. The main reunion would still be held on 6th October, 2012 and the AGM & Reunion would be held on 13th October, 2012 (primarily for members of the Old Elphinians).

In April 2012 a further meeting was held when we agreed to have a number of school dishes for both lunch and afternoon tea. It was also noted that car parking on site would be insufficient and so a visit to Whitworth Centre was made to see if their car park could be used as an overspill, to which Audley would provide a mini bus to take people to and fro. The Whitworth Centre kindly allowed us to do this free of charge.

Although the main reason for having a school reunion (however small or large) is so that old friends can catch up, and new friendships can also be formed, it was felt that 6th October, 2012 should be different to any previous event and to add some finishing touches. A charge of £15 per person was made which was the charge Audley were making for all the catering – they were not making any charge for the hire of the rooms. It was therefore hoped that sponsorship or donations towards the running of the event could be obtained but this proved to be quite difficult due to the current financial climate and many companies now donate to specific charities. It was therefore decided to hold a raffle to recoup some, if not all, of the expenditure.

The Extras!
An 8-page A5 programme which gave details of the day, additional information and a list of those attending (together with the years and house they were in at school) was sent to everyone two weeks before the event. This also had an entry ticket enclosed and a disabled parking ticket for those who required it. Liz Donlan (nee Bailey) provided the artwork for the programme and Image Printing in Matlock very kindly printed it free of charge - they had originally advertised in two of the school magazines in the early 1990s. Please click on the image, above left, to see the full programme.

Lanyards, with "St Elphin's School Reunion 2012" printed on them, for use with printed name badges (done by JC Leisure Connexions Ltd) were given out on arrival. Each house name was colour-co-ordinated i.e. yellow for Gresford (as seen on photo of Donna Barnard nee Basnett), blue for Kennedy etc.

As there used to be a tuck shop at school everyone was given a small bag containing sweets from the decade they were at school, e.g. girls there in the 1940s had 1940s sweets, girls there in the 1970s had 1970s sweets etc (as per photo left) These were also given out on arrival.

An additional sheet with last minute names and information was handed out on arrival with a copy of the school song on the reverse.

Needless to say, the two weeks prior to the event were extremely busy with e-mails, phone calls and letters (yes, snail mail is still in existance!). Tables, cloths, lights, backboards, P.A. system, monitor, cloth & ribbon for the unveiling of the Invicta stone, use of buggy for internal transport, wheelchair, smokers shelter were just a few of the items to be checked on.

The Day
As ordered, it was a beautiful day with the sun shining! At 8.00am a sign was attached to the Whitworth Centre sign to indicate where the overspill car park was. Tables for the Registration Desk, the Raffle and Memorabilia were set up in Front Hall. An iPad was linked up to a 50" TV in order to try and make Skype contact with girls in Australia, Dubai and Malta. Unfortunately there was no Wi-Fi available and, even though 3G was on the iPad, a strong enough signal couldn't be obtained. Raffle tickets and money containers were given to the sellers to start accosting people!

Suddenly, Front Hall was a hive of activity as 113 ex-pupils and teachers started to arrive - including two Head Girls (Patty Mountford 1966 and Mandy Hammett 1973). Screams of delight could be heard as people met up with others that they had not seen for up to 50 years! Both pupils and teachers were chattering away and, in many ways, it was as though they had never been apart. There was so much noise that those who knew Maud (Miss Robinson, Head Mistress 1958 to 1975) could feel her looking down and scowling!







Prizes galore arrived as girls put their donated items on the Raffle Table – Audley Court Ltd very kindly donated the main prize of a 2-nights bed, breakfast & evening meal for two peope. Items of memorabilia – photos, exercise books, school report, boater, hat, emblem badge etc were brought for girls to peruse. Above photos: Melanie Roach.

Once the car parks at St Elphin's were full, the overspill car park at the Whitworth Centre was used and Audley's mini bus was busy transporting people to and fro. In the meantime coffee & biscuits were being served in The Bistro and a number of girls commented on it being the first time they had ever been in the Staff Room! Photo right: Mike Donlan.

Shortly after her arrival, Mrs Onac (English teacher from 1962 - 1982) was presented with a hamper by Gill Haywood (nee Prescott, 1968 - 1977). The hamper was from Lisa Yuen in Hong Kong who was a pupil from 1975 - 1977. Photo below: Mike Donlan.

Following coffee, everyone was allowed to tour St Elphin's House and also the grounds. Again squeals of laughter could be heard as girls were running up and down Front Stairs – something which only sixth formers and staff were allowed to do except they had to walk and not run!

In addition they viewed the following areas – the descriptions are based on their main useage in the 60s, 70s and early 80s:

• The Head Mistress/Master's landing which also had a Powys dormitory, Powys house room and the Common Room. They have been converted into two luxury apartments and the Chatsworth Guest Room. There is also a lift from the ground floor.

• Top landing – formerly Powys dormitories and the House Mistress's room is now a luxury apartment and the Haddon Guest Room and also has a lift

• Staff sitting room – now a residents' library – Right: Photo Liz Donlan

• Upper VI form room – now a drawing room for the residents

• Lower VI form room – now a lift to the above-mentioned floors

• Staff dining room, Maud's dining room, Olive's kitchen, staff toilets – now knocked into one room as The Orangery Restaurant

• The Chapel – now Chapel Mews containing a 2-bedroom cottage and a 2-bedroom bungalow

• Orchards (cubicle bedrooms for Gresford) – now Thornton Mews containing four luxury mews cottages

The girls were able to walk round the grounds where the Isobel Burgess and Thornton Buildings had been replaced with luxury apartments, mews and cottages. Audley had provided a buggy and driver to take some of the people with walking difficulties around the site. Fortunately, it was a glorious day and so an ideal opportunity for everyone to stroll around the grounds.

After walkabout it was time for lunch which consisted of a variety of hot and cold dishes as well as jam roly poly and custard (matron's leg) and shortbread and chocolate custard for desserts. Photo left: Sharon Neysmith. In view of the good weather, a number of people were able to sit out on the terrace to have their lunch.

The bar in The Bistro was also open for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

Immediately following lunch we had the unveiling of the Invicta Stone by Marianne Jackson (nee Stewart). The Invicta Stone was sold in April 2005 to a salvage merchants in Oxfordshire. Marianne managed to track it down and Audley kindly agreed to buy it back. Full details of the story of the Invicta Stone can be found on the Invicta page. Audley covered the Stone up and put a ribbon round so that Marianne could do the unveiling as well as giving a short speech. Reflections magazine had also sent a photographer in order for some editorial to be published in their November issue. Right: Marianne explaining about the Invicta Stone - Photo by Cath Farnworth. Read more.....

The next highlight was to have a school photo taken. This proved even harder than when the girls were at school, as they were all extremely giggly and it was difficult to get them to be quiet and to look at the camera – let alone the fact that some girls missed out totally because they were either folding raffle tickets or having another walk round! Left: The photographer desperately trying to get us in order! Photo by Alison Tomlinson.

Whilst the majority of people were together Gill Haywood made a presentation to Liz Donlan on behalf of everyone, for all the work she had done in organising the reunion and getting everyone together. An Orchid and some garden centre vouchers were given to Liz as she is an avid gardener. (She later revealed that they will go towards a specimen Acer as a centrepiece for her garden – see 'Update on Presentation to Liz Donlan' below) Photo: Alison Tomlinson

Following the outside activites it was time for afternoon tea which consisted of a typical afernoon tea from school – jam sandwiches, cut into triangles and with crusts left on; iced buns and battenburg cake. Needless to say, this caused quite a lot of hilarity. Photo Left: Cathy Chrystal (nee Holmes), 1983 - 1992.

Next it was time to draw the raffle, with the major prize being left until last. As this was the 2-nights bed, breakfast & evening for two people donated by Audley Court Ltd, virtually everyone in the room were certain they were going to win it! The lucky winner was, in fact Kemi Ogunyemi (nee Gbaja, 1977 - 1979) – to say she was ecstatic when her number was called out was an understatement. Kemi hopes to use her prize next year when her daughter finishes university. Right: Kemi - Photo Mike Donlan.

Rounding off.....
To round off an extremely emotional day, things became even more emotional when Jenny Gray-Winkless led us into singing the school song with not a dry eye in the house! Finishing off the afternoon tea, people then began their goodbyes and thank yous which, in many cases, was also quite emotional.

All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable day and everyone went home happy. Although there were still a few mixed feelings on the stairs etc in Front Hall being painted white, everyone appeared to be pleased with what Audley had done to our precious school building.

In addition there was a three-page article - Staging a great reunion - at the school she hated! - by yours truly in the November issue of Reflections magazine. Unfortunately the photo captions and headings were added by Reflections magazine and I was not aware of them until after it had gone to print. It states that it was the "biggest-ever reunion" which, of course, it wasn't. The "biggest-ever reunion" was in fact held in 1994 although the one on 6th October, 2012 was the largest since the closure of the school in March 2005! Needless to say, it was still very exciting to see the article in print which can be found here!

Report by Liz Donlan

Update on Presentation to Liz Donlan
I mentioned above that I would be using the garden centre vouchers (£80's worth!) towards purchasing a specimen Acer for my garden. I purchased the tree in April 2013 but wanted to wait until it was in full leaf before putting photos on here. The tree is an Acer palmatum 'Tamuke yama', which fits in with our Japanese-style garden and is approx. 6ft tall from ground level. The two photos were taken on 8th August, 2013 - please click on them to see larger versions.

I'm also pleased to say that the Orchid is also doing well and has never stopped flowering. Thank you so much to all those who kindly donated towards the vouchers. Liz Donlan

Click here for the complete photo album!

As a memory of the day we had 3 items available to purchase (now sold out!).

'School Photo' Mug Mouse mat

Special thanks to.....
Audley Court Ltd
Alison Davies, Community Relations Manager, Audley St Elphin's Park
Bruce Wragg, General Manager, Audley St Elphin's Park
Ewen Crilley, Club Services Manager, Audley St Elphin's Park
Gill Haywood (nee Prescott) for her never-ending support throughout the organising of the reunion
Image Printing
Philippa Thompson, General Manager, Audley St Elphin's Park
The Residents of St Elphin's Park for making us so welcome
The Staff of St Elphin's Park – with special thanks to Susan McClean and Scott

The helpers on the day.....
Alison Vernon-Tomlinson – assisting on the Registration Desk
Annabel Seddon-Garnett – assisting on the Registration Desk
Anne Marie Robinson-Reeve – selling and folding raffle tickets
Donna Basnett-Barnard – calling out the raffle ticket numbers
Jenny Gray-Winkless – folding raffle tickets and leading of the school song
Marianne Stewart-Jackson – selling and folding raffle tickets; unveiling of the Invicta Stone

Photographs above.....
Alison Vernon-Tomlinson
Cath Bartholomew-Farnworth
Cathy Holmes-Chrystal
Doris Chan – Photo from 2005
Liz Bailey-Donlan
Melanie Roach
Mike Donlan
Sharon Neale-Neysmith
Photographs in the Photo Album.....
Cath Bartholomew-Farnworth
Jenny Gray-Winkless
Mike "Patient" Donlan

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