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When we were at Pendarren…

The week before half term, our oldest children spent a week at Pendarren House, Haringey’s outward-bound centre in Crickhowell.

The Year 6 journey is important – it’s a rite of passage that creates memories that stay with children forever. I remember every detail of my year group’s visit to York in 1976. It was a week in which we packed in pretty much everything, with an itinerary that included Scarborough Castle, Flamborough Head and York Minster. We traipsed round The Railway Museum, The Shambles and Clifford’s Tower, and even had time to watch Southampton beat Manchester United in the cup final. But the important thing was being away from home with my class; the children with whom I’d spent the last seven years, the children with whom I’d grown up.

The Year 6 trip to Pendarren is written into folk law. Haringey children have been visiting just about every week of the year since 1975. Our staff members, John, Fay and Elaine visited Pendarren when they were at school (John could even point to each bunk in his dormitory and name each of the other 13 boys who shared his room). Pendarren is the thing our children have been looking forward to for as long as they can remember – and the build up is always the same: extreme excitement, with some anxiety – mostly about with whom they are going to be sharing a room. For many children this is their first time away from home without their family, for others it’s their first time out of London – it’s a big deal.

And then the week comes – and goes – and since they’ve been back all I’ve been hearing is, ‘at Pendarren… when we were at Pendarren… guess what happened when we were at Pendarren?’ To tell the truth, it’s becoming slightly annoying – but it’s wonderful. There are so many tales to be told as each year it’s someone else’s turn to fall out of a canoe, get lodged in ‘the Letterbox’, get stuck up the abseiling tower, lose a boot in the mud, get scared of the ghost or fall out of their bunk.

Having taken Year 6 children away on numerous occasions, I know that for staff it’s the most exhausting week of the year. Children are too wired to go to sleep – and too excited to sleep in; shrieking and banging about in their dormitories from the early hours. Every day is completely action-packed with a full itinerary of outward-bound and adventurous activities – and there’s no down time at all.

So why do we do it? The Year 6 journey to Pendarren is genuinely character building. Children are put in situations where they have to be resourceful, brave, resilient and mentally strong. They are challenged physically and mentally in a way that they probably haven’t been before – and may not be again. In an increasingly sanitised world, children find themselves completely outside their comfort zone. But they adapt and grow, and return to school different to how they were before they left.

And at the same time, they learn how to be truly supportive of one another. They have to work as a team, to encourage one another and celebrate each other’s achievements. Given the opportunity, faced with such challenges, many of them would have given up, but with encouragement from the instructors, teachers and each other, children all achieve far more than they could have imagined. The exhilaration they experienced when they realise they’d done things they thought they couldn’t is wonderful to see.

So thank you to the staff who spent the week with our Year 6s – and well done to this cohort of children. By all accounts, they were fantastic.

William