On my way home from work last night, I saw a man pass a bag of food to an elderly neighbour – a small act of kindness, and a fitting way to mark the end of Mental Health Awareness Week. As we continue to plan for the possibility of reopening parts of the school, our thoughts have, understandably, been focused on physical safety and physical health but, we have also taken time this week to recognise the impact of Covid-19 on mental health.

Mrs Fox introduced Mental Health Awareness Week in assembly on Monday and explored why ‘kindness’ has been chosen as this year’s theme. Studies have shown that kindness has many wellbeing benefits: 63% of adults in the UK agree that when people are kind it has a positive impact on their mental health, and those who carry out acts of kindness are found to experience a greater sense of wellbeing. Kindness can even reduce our stress levels. I am sure many that girls rose to the #kindnessmatters challenge this week by carrying out small acts of kindness, and it has been heartening to see a steady stream of donations for the City Mission foodbank arriving at the Vicarage – the pile got so big this morning that it started to attract the seagulls (thank you to the kind parent who alerted me to this at lunchtime and chased them away)!

To be kind, in the original Anglo-Saxon sense of the word, is the treat others as we would treat a member of our family, or kin. From the conversations I have had with parents, it is clear that a significant factor in maintaining positive mental health has been the sense of family and community at Brighton Girls: Form times, group work, regular ‘Meets’, and virtual coffees have helped to remind us all that we are part of a one big team.

Last year, I heard writer and broadcaster, Giles Brandreth, speak at Festival of Education on the topic of Wellbeing. Giles shared three tips for positive mental health, borrowed from Dr Anthony Clare (of Radio 4’s ‘In the Psychiatrist’s Chair’ fame). The first, and most powerful, was this:

“Be a leaf on a tree”.

In other words, be an individual, be unique, but make sure you are part of something bigger. It is being part of something bigger that keeps our lives in perspective; it is what gives us purpose and a sense of belonging.

This week, there have been many opportunities for girls to experience this sense of belonging. This afternoon we have enjoyed the GDST-vision song contest and marvelled at the collective talent on display; Thursday saw the Inspiring Change Makers Summit, which gave our girls the chance to join hundreds of students from across the Trust and listen to inspiring women talk about their lives. Last night’s Music in the Air concert (as I wrote in my letter to parents this week) was Brighton Girls at its best. The music undoubtedly provided a tonic, and a chance to wind down after a busy day, but it was the sense of community that made the event so special. There were parents, grandparents, music teachers, staff, and students – physically separate, but listening together. If anything, I felt closer to the other audience members than I would at a live event. It was touching to see someone’s grandparents watching the concert as they ate their evening meal; next to them, a Year 6 watched from her kitchen table, while an alert on the staff WhatsApp group informed me that one teacher was watching on the beach. What made our virtual concert so special was that it reminded us that we are all part of something bigger – and that is a great source of comfort, especially at this time.

As I walked past the man delivering food to his neighbour, I heard the words that accompanied his gesture. His concern was not that his neighbour needed the food in a physical sense – rather, the man said to his neighbour,

“I thought this would keep you sane”.

I have no idea what was in the bag, but I do know that, on this occasion, the contents were irrelevant. It was the act of kindness and the community spirit that mattered – a reminder to the neighbour that he is a single leaf on a much bigger tree.