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St Bees Back Buzzing!

Howard Wiseman reports:

02/05/23: “That was the best English lesson I’ve ever had”, said a year 9 girl to her English teacher, whose class had been re-scheduled to play Fives instead.

In fact, every student in the school had a lesson re-scheduled to become a Fives lesson, so that the entire school of almost 100 students played Fives on the Friday or Saturday. Evenings and Sunday morning also saw the three wonderful St Bees Eton Fives courts, filled with staff and children who couldn’t get enough of it, with the courts being filled with noise and laughter from 9am until 10.30pm each day.

St Bees school re-opened a few years ago after several years of closure, and Fives has been championed by the school as a key sport for the future. The inclusive and sociable nature of the sport, the educational benefits of self-regulation and the fact that the pupils can play recreationally with any number of friends, make it a perfect fit for their needs. The hand-eye coordination skills that it develops is well documented to help most other sports, and will enable various exciting trips and tours for the students both home and abroad.

Rugby is no longer played at St Bees; the focus instead is for a variety of exciting all-weather court games such as Fives, squash and badminton. These present fresh and new opportunities for the St Bees students that will enable pupils and staff of all ages and abilities to enjoy sport together; both socially, for representing the School, and whilst competing for House glory! There is soon to be a school-wide Fives “top-step” singles ladder for staff and pupils.

The three lovely courts are thought to date from the 1890s, and the Eton Fives Association recently made a generous donation to facilitate some much-needed work on the floors and walls. St.Bees expressed how very grateful they are for this help from the Association. The courts are now in great playing order, and are a joy to play on. With a planned upgrade on the lighting in the near future, these courts will be as good as any to play on.

St Bees took part in the Northern Championships this year, entering a staff pair, and a girls and boys pair. At this point, Gwydion Wiseman, the resident Fives Professional at Mill Hill School, offered to further the strong connection between Mill Hill School and St Bees (St Bees hosted Mill Hill during the Second World War), by offering a three-day coaching session to introduce the entire school to Fives. Howard had also offered the same; having delivered a similar session some 25 years ago. So, father and son experienced a joyous three days together in the presence of the most receptive staff and pupils that anyone could ever hope for. Everyone left the courts excited and keen to sign up for more….. even those who had arrived with a determined opinion that they would be no good at it! Benches were moved to face the courts, and immediately, spectators began to appear to watch the evening sessions and inevitably join in once they had spotted the box of gloves. Everyone made huge strides forward, having played “ hot-potato”, “£10 hit the box challenge”, “top-step”, “funny hand” and full-court matches, with or without full rules, depending on experience and ability.

There are great plans for summer Fives with barbecues and social sessions in the evenings.

This was the most enjoyable visit; the courts were overflowing throughout the visit and the school could not have done a better job at exposing the entire school to the sport. St.Bees have created the most wonderful schooling environment where it is clear to see how happy the students are and how well they all know and support each other.

The two Wisemans have promised to make more visits as part of an ongoing St Bees Fives programme; and cannot thank the Headmaster enough, and all the staff for their wonderful hospitality and willingness to join in. In particular, thanks to the wonderful Laurence Gribble (Assistant Head) and Brad Simpson (Lead Teacher of PE) for their fantastic organisation, participation and company over the four days.

Any school interested in visiting St Bees should simply contact Laurence Gribble at the school. The journey is outstandingly beautiful, and would make for an amazing tour, possibly taking in Rossall School and a Midlands stop-off on the way back.


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