It is great to be back! After all the anticipation and all the challenges of last few months, the school is alive with activity. There is a sense of industriousness and energy in the classrooms and corridors, which are full of the sounds of people swapping stories, making plans, working together, laughing together. Of course there are anxieties about what this year will bring, but my message to everyone on Monday was to focus on the present and to focus, in particular, on building and nurturing relationships. I encouraged everyone to be kind to one another as we reaffirm friendships, forge new ones, and used these words by American writer, Margaret Wheatley, to explain why:

“It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another”.

The strength of the relationships at Brighton Girls is something that has struck me time and again since I arrived last January. It is something many parents noted during lockdown as lessons were streamed into your homes. When I asked the new Year 7s to describe the best things about the school they praised the people, and one group in particular: “the teachers are amazing”. These sentiments have been echoed in the staff room – one teacher stopped me yesterday to tell me that he had just taught three lessons back-to-back, that the students had been a delight, and that this was the best day he’d had in six months. He was beaming.

The kindness and compassions that members of this community show for one another is what makes the Brighton Girls community so strong – and these are the very attributes that will serve our students well in the future. During our Sixth Form induction this week, we had the pleasure of welcoming some new friends to Brighton Girls to celebrate the connections and partnerships we have made within the local community over the summer. Katherine Courtney, former CEO of the UK Space Agency; Amy Lishman, Head of Member Engagement for the Brighton Chamber; stand-up comedian and communications coach, Louise Stevenson, our own speech and drama teacher, Helen Hollingdale and Teohna Williams, Brighton Girls alumna, now CEO of Business Plan for Peace, all came to tell their stories. They had all taken very different paths in life, but there was a common theme.

The ability to listen to others, to make connections, to communicate effectively, to empathise, to have inclusive conversations, to understand that you are part of something bigger – these are the attributes we should aim to develop. Why? Because, as Teohna Williams put it, they enable us to engage in the world in the “generous, broad, non-judgemental way that we need to”.

A key focus for this year is to celebrate the strength and significance of the Brighton Girls community. You will be hearing lots more about our plans to bring together parents, staff, students, alumnae, governors and wider community of Brighton and Hove. Initiatives like the Brighton Stargazing Project, which will see our students working alongside pupils from St Andrew’s Primary School, and partnerships like the one we are forging with the Brighton chamber, will reaffirm our place in community. Within school, we are developing student leadership roles and creating more opportunities for collaboration between the Prep and Senior schools. This Year, for example, Year 6 pupils are joining us every Thursday for a day of Maths, French, Dance, English and Latin (with some mindfulness and yoga to break up the day) and, in another exciting new development, I am delighted to announce that we have merged with Pier Piper Netball to create a new netball club for the wider community of Brighton and Hove.

The new club, Brighton Bees, will provide opportunities for players at all levels, from Year 3 up to adults, with teams playing friendlies and competing in local leagues and tournaments. I am very grateful to Victoria Lacey for giving us this opportunity, and to Jo Phillimore, Elaine Wills and Emma Habba for getting the Junior sessions off the ground so quickly. This Sunday the Junior Brighton Bees will gather for the first time on the Prep School courts (9.30am – 10.30am for Years 3 & 4 and 10.30am – 11.30am for Years 5 & 6). Provision for other age groups will be rolled out over the next few weeks.

Why the name Brighton Bees, you ask? This was a name suggested by Elaine Wills and, as Elaine put it,

“The female worker bees are very productive. There are thousands of honey bees working together in one hive, hundreds in a bumblebee hive. Working as a team, in a community, and living at peace with others is the secret to their success”.

The Brighton Bees it is!