St Peter's School
“The Rise is such a homely, loving place, and the personality of all of the girls just shines.”
Helen Lindley, St Peter’s Director of Drama, has spent of 10 of her 11 year teaching career living in girls’ boarding houses, so her appreciation for the (slightly) smaller of St Peter’s two senior girls boarding houses, which celebrates its centenary in 2018, speaks volumes for the unique atmosphere of this community.
“Rise, more than any boarding house I’ve had experience of, is a family across the years,” Helen says. “There are friendships within year groups, but the relationships go across all years, without distinction.”
In theory, Helen, as Assistant House Mistress to Dorothy Gillies, lives in a small flat in the house and spends two to three evenings a week overseeing evening prep and being on hand to talk to the girls.
In reality Helen says “It’s my home. I’ll be around more often because the girls are a part of my life and I want to know what is happening. It’s not really about having ‘my life’ and then ‘school life’. Throwing myself into everything that’s part of Rise, the sporting events and other activities, is why I’ve chosen to live here. When I first started at St Peter’s I was a day tutor. I used to go home and feel like I was missing out. ”
The Rise community adopted her as their own, and just a few months into her time at St Peter’s, back in 2014, Helen applied and was appointed Assistant House Mistress: “As a teacher you try to get to know all your pupils well, but of course you know those that you live with that much better. You see them crying over boyfriends as well as being really excited about things that have happened at school. As an assistant house parent I always feel a little bit like a big sister.”
Seeing the girls with Helen, who did not attend a boarding school or independent school herself, it is clear that this is an analogy they would share. Some of the girls tell me that her background and warm personality – Helen worked as an actress before training as a drama teacher, retaining strong links to the national theatre and creative communities, and has recently planned and celebrated her own bohemian and very stylish wedding – is a refreshing and inspiring alternative from the stereotype of the strict House Mistress.
If boarders at St Peter’s excel at anything, it is finding cause to celebrate their house and its members. The termly House Dinner epitomises the sort of social occasions that boarders relish. The whole Rise community will attend, together with those non-resident teachers lucky enough to be selected by the girls for a coveted invitation.
“They are so glamorous,” Helen says.” It’s a big thing in the house: have you got your dress for house dinner yet?”
Helen sees the event as exemplifying the house’s strong sense of community and far from being a stuffy event, one where young women can be free to express themselves: “ I love that they dress up for an occasion where it’s just girls. It’s really lovely when you see the little ones dressed up for the first time. The idea is about them having fun together, but also getting them used to a formal dinner experience as something to enjoy.”
Boarding at St Peter’s, either at The Rise or the school’s other girls’ house Dronfield, gives girls the opportunity to experience learning and working with both sexes, and also to enjoy the intimacy, support and companionship of a single sex environment in the evenings.
“Girls get so much from the boarding environment at this age,” Helen says. “When you think of all the activities on offer, and everything you can experience and learn and get really good at, it is nice to be a boarder and be able to come back to Rise and get on with prep. They have more time, more focus on what’s happening and more willingness to engage with the full experience of the school because there’s not the concern about travelling for two hours.”
Helen is conscious of the value of boarding at sixth form as a means of preparation for independent living. “In Sixth Form, they get a lot of responsibility for running the house,” she says. Every evening we have a whole house meeting. And in that they’ll have to organise, for example, who their debating team is and who their swimming team is, and they have to organise events and rehearsals. We don’t do that for them, and it’s hard. So Sixth Formers learn how to be a manager of other people.”
Helen admits that as someone who has lived and breathed boarding for a decade, she struggles to understand the misconceptions that surround boarding. “Some people have an idea that the girls don’t speak to their parents. There are phones, there are texts, there is constant communication, between girls and parents, between the girls here now and the girls who have gone off to university, and between parents and Mrs Gillies.”
Parents with one or two teenage girls at home, may listen to Helen’s descriptions of harmonious, purposeful living and wonder what sort of magical world has been created in Rise. She admits that St Peter’s boarding does no transform children into the sort of perfect young ladies one might find in a Victorian novel. Nor does it aim to!
She says: “Clothes go missing. Food goes missing. Sometimes I rack my brains to think of an activity that will involve everyone enough to leave their phones alone for a few hours. This is thirty-four teenage girls! What is really lovely is seeing how things get resolved, and how they grow up in the time they are here and learn how to live with others.”
“Joining is being welcomed into a big family,” she continues. “You will see at weekends, girls with houses nearby will invite girls whose parents live further away, to stay with them. Even with all the time they spend together, when they do go home, they very often want to take another girl with them. They get to spend every evening with friends. That’s a really lovely thing.”