Friday, January 05, 2007

Speech to Parents, Teachers & Pupils leaving Howden School

Update - 21st November 2007..... The sitemeter has just recorded the 1,000th hit on this particular post, and from all parts of the world.... please feel free to add any comments by clicking on the 'comments' at the end (anonymously if you wish) as to how useful (or not) you found this 'speech' - so that others can perhaps gain from your experiences.... Thanks Paul

Good Evening… Ladies, Gentlemen, and ex-pupils

My name is Paul Robinson and I attended this school - I was part of the first comprehensive year……. arriving as a pre-pubescent boy back in 1973 and leaving to take on the world in 1978 – BUT not having started shaving and knowing very little about the opposite sex - probably feeling much the same as some of you here this evening.

When the Head teacher, Mr Williams asked me to say a few words to you tonight, I must admit I didn’t really know where to start. But I remembered putting a couple of comments on the Friends re-united website a few years ago, which I’ve been back to, and I dug these out – My old School reports.

I hope I’m talking to ex-pupils here tonight, as I wouldn’t want to give any present pupils ideas from what we did back in the ‘70s!!

I do remember this Hall… Over there is where I failed a PE kit inspection, Mr Wigglesworth, the PE teacher found one of my socks hadn’t got my name sewn inside - the punishment was metered out there and then – one very hard stroke across the backside with “Percy”, a size 13 training shoe – I had a bruise that lasted 2 weeks!!

We had a school strike (the whole country was on strike in those days!) where we all sat down in here supporting the girls being allowed to wear trousers during the winter…. I still remember that afternoon.. with a couple of hundred of us sitting and chanting, and Mrs Lawson,(the head of the girls I think), getting more and more angry when we wouldn’t move…... The Head closed the school and sent us all home… but guess what - within a couple of weeks all the girls where allowed to wear trousers.

Did you have your mock exams in this Hall? We did….. All the single desks in rows the full length…… I remember during the morning of one of the exams, for some reason one guy, right at the back had marble in his pocket…. It’s all very quiet as you can imagine… when the next thing is this marble comes bouncing down the aisle all the way from the back to the front… you can imagine the resulting laughter ……. a few of the kids then went out into Howden during the lunch break, to buy food??? Well I’m sure you can imagine what happened in the afternoon… there must have been upwards of 50 marbles clattering down the aisles during the next exam… with the teachers trying to spot who was throwing them….

But the situation was to deteriorate during the last exam of the day… a couple of the kids had taken it one step further… as kids do… I’m sat somewhere in the middle there, working away, when suddenly I’m showered with nothing less then dried peas…. Well you can imagine the uproar, there’s peas everywhere and nobody can work for laughing….. needless to say the showers of peas continued till somebody got caught….. You can imagine how the hall looked at the end of the lesson… put it this way a few tonnes of top soil, and we would have had the pea viners in within a couple of months…. Can you guess who rolled that first marble????

What I want to say to those of you who have just left…… is that your school days are now over, but that doesn’t mean you will stop learning – I am still learning things every day.

Did I enjoy going to Howden School? – Well I know that when I left I couldn’t wait to get out, leaving at 16, as my parents could not afford me to stay on into 6th form….. But looking back now I did enjoy my time at this school, it taught me so much that I have benefited from over the past 28 years…. and continue to do so…. including that you don’t need a university degree to be successful…...

I know one thing for sure….. I thought I knew it all at sixteen, my geography teacher told me as much ……...and if I can just read my report from a certain Mr Griffiths….

As I said, I left school in 1978, at 16 after completing my O’ levels. During my last year I was working weekends and holidays for a company repairing sea containers, and working on a local farm during the harvest – so I was working full time, whilst taking time off to sit my exams. I also managed to get myself the offer of an apprenticeship at Drax Power Station.
I still remember the last time I saw my metalwork teacher, Mr Thorley (or Big D as we called him) …. and what he said to me – bearing in mind I'd just completed my O level metalwork written paper, for which I was to get a grade B …….."Robinson, You'll never make it in an engineering field, so don’t bother trying, and don’t enrol for any night class that I'm teaching because I’ll stop the class rather than teach you, in fact I don't particularly want to see you again"

These were interesting words to say to a sixteen-year-old kid…..BUT…Those words have stuck with me since that time, and I've used the memory of them on a number of occasions, when in challenging situations - I just didn't want to him to be proved right! They say 'success is the sweetest form of revenge' (and do you know ….. they’re right).

So after leaving school I did go into engineering, serving my Apprenticeship at Drax Power Station, attending colleges at Harrogate and Doncaster before qualifying as a mechanical maintenance engineer…something I was to do for the next 6 years. You will find out that once you’re out there work and school are a million miles apart..

The other thing I did was travel, saving up my holidays and working extra days to get more time off, which enabled me to take longer periods away. In those days you could get a months unlimited rail travel in Europe for just less than £100. I invariably travelled alone with just a backpack and sleeping bag. I met many people on trains, planes, on beaches, in bars, clubs you name it – who would ask me to visit them if I ever found myself in wherever they lived… So not wanting to look gift horses in the mouth - that’s exactly what I did…

I think what I want to say to you is “I tried to take advantage of every situation, opportunity, or chance that came my way – and I encourage you to do the same”

“Travel broadens your mind, it’s an education in it’s own right, - and guess what… it’s easier, and cheaper now than it’s ever been, the worlds a smaller place, contact with people has never been easier, through mobile phone and internet… What I will say is with most things… don’t be afraid, don’t listen to those who say you shouldn't’t or you can’t do… just get on and do it!! Don’t be afraid to dream of far away places… picture them and go!

I think the craziest thing I ever did though was to take the train… from Goole railway Station to Hong Kong….. and this was to be an education!!

I travelled through Europe stopping off with friends in Holland, Germany and Sweden before travelling to the North of Sweden, over into Finland and on to Moscow. Now this was the USSR in those days, a difficult place in which to travel…. before Perestroika and Glasnost, and President Gorbarchev had just come into power… You had to appear in person at the embassy in London to get a visa...they even searched your baggage looking for unauthorised books….. From Moscow I caught the Trans-Siberian train crossing Siberia, and through Mongolia before finding myself in Beijing – six days, same train, bad food, and no change of clothes…. because I’d sold them all in Moscow… which paid for the trip!!! The madness of this trip was the timing - who in their right mind would cross Siberia in January, the coldest time of the year – yes me!

From Beijing I took a number of trains, and a riverboats, was to eat many things for the first time (including a snake) before eventually arriving in Hong Kong… My first stop being the 24hour McDonalds outside Kowloon railway station.

Another time I was to find myself in Timbuktu, which is in the Sahara desert….. and of course chose the middle of August for that trip…..

At this point I would like to mention one of my Heroes from school, my Geography teacher, whom gave me the seeds of those ideas for travel – The late Ken Coward

“A Great teacher and my house-master. He taught me how to reason, and to take my eyes off myself, he believed in me when others didn't. He recognised my potential and told me that I could, and should pass those O levels (which I did) - when others said the opposite. Thinking back he was the first person to really inspire me!He taught me a lot for which I'm grateful. I’m just sorry that I was not able to see him again - to thank him personally if nothing else…. but if he is looking down on me I hope I’ve made him proud.”


After the death of my father in 1987, I decided to do something very different - to work in 3rd world development….. I remember having to endure a rather complex selection interview….. being asked “who were my heroes”…….. The panel appeared most shocked when I revealed these to be Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher - and Norman Tebbitt – which went down like a lead balloon, and to which a rather scruffy, leftward leaning lady retorted, “Well, we normally get people of a more pinkish persuasion here!”


Needless to say I was offered a posting and spent the next four years in West Africa… For the first two years working for the Voluntary Services Overseas….. (on a project you may find hard to believe)…. introducing metalwork and woodwork into rural secondary schools….I also did some work for Save the Children designing and constructing of buildings during the weekends and holidays. I lived in a mud-block house with a corrugate roof, no running water or electricity and a pit latrine for a toilet (which is simply a hole in the ground) in the back yard, and earned less than £25 per week….…. Oh!.. and I learnt how to speak Mandinka and Wolof!!

I spent the second two years working for ActionAid initially designing and then implementing a £200,000 skills training program to provide training for village youth and existing artisans, in their skill area as well as in literacy, numeracy, business skills, and marketing….. Had I done anything like this before? No not really, I learnt how to listen and find answers as I went along!
People did think, and told me I was mad to go to Africa, especially not really getting paid for the privilege – but you know something not one person thought or said that when I returned. Living with the poorest of the world, having personally experienced malaria and dysentery, having your life threatened, and generally living on your wits certainly puts a different perspective on life.

Coming HomeIn 1992 I returned back to the UK, and did what most 30-year-old men do - I moved back in with my mother living in Newport!I set up my own drain clearance and repair business, as something to do whilst I decided on what to do next. Thirteen years later that business is now a successful company, operating throughout Yorkshire, of which I am the Managing Director.Gilberdyke Memorial HallIn mid 1999 a new committee was formed to run the Gilberdyke War Memorial Hall, after the previous committee stood down after losing a community vote to sell off the Hall for building land….. I was elected to Chair this new organisation from the outset. I spent the next 4 years leading a team of volunteer committee members transforming the Hall into a thriving community resource, generating funds and becoming a self-sustaining business. I worked with the Parish Council to secure funding for 2 Youth Shelters on the Memorial Hall field….. These proved very successful in giving the youth a place where we want them to congregate these have become so successful that the concept is repeated across the East Riding.

Gilberdyke Parish Councillor

I became a Parish Councillor 7 years ago, elected as vice chair in 2003 before being elected as Chairman almost two years ago ….. It was a bold decision for the Parish Council to select me, their youngest member (by half a generation) to lead them….. As Chairman I have modernised the policies and procedures, and been proactive in pursuing issues that make Gilberdyke a better place in which to live. Under my leadership the Parish Council is now more responsive to Community needs….. I have endeavoured to be a catalyst for others to be creative in putting forward ideas and suggestions, having an open forum for members of the public to speak at the end of each meeting and to listen to and act on their suggestions and views, as well as developing our own ideas….. The Parish Council has just employed a dedicated grants officer to work with organisations operating within the village - to bring more money into the community -

School Governor

In 2004 I was selected by the Parish Council to become a Community Governor at my old school in Gilberdyke - and after just two years was elected as Chair….. I’m sure you’ll agree that there is a certain irony for someone, who perhaps didn’t do as well has he might have at school, becoming the Chair of Governors at his old school.

Our proudest achievement has been to see the school lifted into the top 4% of Primary schools in the last OFSTED report….. Working with the Head and Staff we continue with the tasks of implementing the so-called reforms handed down to us by central Government.Whilst I am Chair, our school will continue with competitive sports, will treat multiculturalism as an understanding of how other cultures live, (rather than a Politically Correct Dogma), we will continue to help those who are gifted and talented to achieve their potential rather than holding them back, those with special needs will get the extra help they require, and for the majority - including my daughter - they will receive the best primary school education we can give them.

I had not forgotten what I did with youth in Africa and I think my proudest achievement since returning home was to devise the Gilberdyke youth project……This is a sustainable project including a purpose built youth building, activities and supervision by youth workers…… There are now in excess of 145 members….. The project gives the youth a sense of belonging, a feeling of ownership, empowerment, and part of the decision-making process. It was a pleasure to lead the team of people who helped me put this project together - but more satisfying to be able pass on the project to that team as my commitments to the Parish Council and School increased.

Finally I would like to just say to you two things:

“However successful an individual becomes in whatever field - it is in my view essential that one gives something back in return, many decide to give money to a chosen charity, some perform heroic feats to raise money for the benefit of the infirm or the less well off, and others give time to voluntary organisations….. Over the past years I have chosen to devote a lot of my time, energy, drive, and expertise to the community in which I live….. Something I have found very satisfying”

And perhaps most importantly

"I believe that deep down people want to be self reliant, young people given the chance will jump at independence… If they’re brought up with a sense of personal responsibility and a belief in their own abilities, they will step forward and take charge of their own lives… It’s up to us to encourage them to take that chance"….

So to you young people all I will say is

“Just grasp the chances and opportunities that come your way”


Update - 21st November 2007..... The sitemeter has just recorded the 1,000th hit on this particular post, and from all parts of the world.... please feel free to add any comments by clicking on the 'comments' below (anonymously if you wish) as to how useful (or not) you found this 'speech' - so that others can perhaps gain from your experiences.... Thanks Paul


Ebrima (Ghana) said...

Very good, and useful - like the message to the children that education continues after school days are over.

Anonymous said...

I am currently in year 11, and i really enjoyed your speech. I think that those chances you took are very admirable - and i will most certainly try and make the most of everything available to me. Thankyou for posting this, its great.