Our annual Founder’s Weekend was a spectacular celebration of the many talents and achievements of our pupils, and it was made extra special as we marked 100 years of the School’s move to our beautiful woodland campus in Cold Ash.

16 August 2022

At the end of the 2021/2022 school year we held our annual Founder’s Weekend celebrations – and we took every opportunity to celebrate and commemorate the history of the School and the people who have made it what is today – its founders, former and current pupils and staff!

The special Centenary-themed event saw us open the School gates for an action-packed weekend of performances, productions and exhibitions to create our biggest ever community gathering; including current pupils and their families, members of our alumnae community, staff and their families and, for the first time, members of our local community – our friends and neighbours from the surrounding area. It truly was a coming together the whole Downe House community.

The girls got the weekend started with a bang – as the starting pistol sounded to begin the annual inter-House Sports Day competition on Saturday morning. As pupils and families alike gathered on the sports field for a morning of track and field events, the Houses took the opportunity to raise funds for their House charities, selling items created by the pupils and housestaff.

With the sun shining, everyone was able to enjoy their picnic lunches in the grounds of the main campus, with the Cloisters being the focal point which was again home to a large festival screen streaming performances and videos throughout the weekend, and was the venue for the premiere of a very special Spirit of Downe House film, which celebrates our Centenary and features alumnae, pupils and staff.

Celebrating our Centenary with friends and neighbours – Community Afternoon – A particularly important part of the weekend for us was celebrating the centenary of our campus in Cold Ash with our friends and neighbours from the local community. 100 members of the local community in Cold Ash joined us to help celebrate the School being part of their community for 100 years. Our guests took in a performance of the Moving Memories centenary-themed dance showcase, took guided tours of our Creative Arts exhibition and the Centenary Exhibition in the Nickel Room, as well as exploring the grounds of the School aided by our self-guided history tour of the campus. All this, followed by one of our sumptuous Afternoon Teas, rounded off a very special part of the weekend. We look forward to finding more opportunities to welcome members of the local community back into School over the years ahead.

The weekend offered a programme of outstanding performances, productions and exhibitions, interspersed with opportunities to relax and enjoy time with family and friends in the beautiful School grounds, with many of the performances being streamed on the Festival Screen.

Founder's Weekend 2022

Highlights of the weekend most certainly included:

Sing Up An outstanding performance of choral music at its very best from our multi-award-winning choir Prima Voce with special appearance Katie Hackman, DH 2019 Alumna who is currently training at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in Vocal and Operative Performance. We were also delighted that Bob Chilcott joined us to conduct the choir’ rendition of ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’ from The Song of Harvest.

Creative Arts and Centenary Exhibitions The Murray Centre and Nickel Room were transformed into gallery spaces which displayed the stunning artwork and creative works of our pupils. With Art, Textiles, Photography and 3D Design works on display, the Murray Centre was a hive of activity throughout the entire weekend. The Nickel Room was transformed into a exhibition hall featuring artifacts from the Archives as well as artworks and poetry created specifically to commemorate our Cold Ash Centenary.

Founder’s Concert The long-awaited return of a concert with a full live audience, since the restrictions of lockdown! Featuring all the Schools’ music ensembles and choirs – Founder’s Orchestra, Sinfonia, Once Removed, Treblemakers, In Harmony and Prima Voce – the programme embraced a wide variety of musical styles from a glimpse of Broadway and spot of Riverdance through to Gospel, Pop and Music for TV. Something for everybody! The concert finale brought together all our choirs from across the School for the first time in three years to sing as one community – very much in the spirit of our Founder, Olive Willis.

The Lion King Girls from across the entire School give a simply jaw-dropping production of the smash hit musical The Lion King (Jr). Complete with a full parade of animals, including an audience walk-through by an elephant, giraffes, Zebras and many other animals during the stunning opening sequence, there were powerful performances across the board, from the lead characters and the ensembles alike, and some outstanding renditions of The Lion King classics including Can You Feel The Love Tonight and the much-loved Hakuna Matata. Supported by a dedicated and invaluable backstage crew, the girls certainly took us on a magical adventure through the African Savanah that left us singing the songs for days!

Moving Memories Dance Showcase This centenary-themed dance show saw dancers from across the school bring to life some of the most memorable figures from the history of Downe House through a wide variety of dance genres. Performed by pupils who take part in extra-curricular dance programmes alongside dancers from the Dance Academy and Company, the girls gave us a wonderful and sometimes thought-provoking glimpse into the life of the School through the years.

Lord of the Flies The Upper Fifth pupils’ adaptation of William Goudling’s classic gave us Lord of the Flies as we’ve never seen it before. In the midst of a deadly viral pandemic that has plagued the globe, children are being sent to quarantine districts to try and survive. However, when the children arrive at District 3, they find themselves alone with no adult or order in their lives. Could this group of children establish democracy among themselves, or would they succumb to the temptations of anarchy? In this dynamic and gritty production the girls unpicked the original story’s concept of savagery and questioned what that would look like in a dystopian context with an all-female cast. The girls certainly rose to the challenge and made it their own.

Bring the House Downe The pupils had a wonderfully boisterous end to the weekend with the return of this much-loved pupils’ own ensemble competition, back after a two-year break. The competition attracted 26 entries and after the Preliminary Rounds, nine groups made it through to the Finals – and what a fantastic competition is was for our young musicians. The atmosphere in the Farr Centre was electrifying throughout and after the panel of judges had deliberated, before the stunning ‘Trio Sempre Giocando’ were crowned as worthy winners of this year’s competition. Of course, no ‘Bring the House Downe’ competition is complete without an audience vote and the Cup for ‘The Most Entertaining Performance’ was solely in the hands of the audience – and the winners were ‘River Flows In Us’, following this talented quartet’s brilliant ‘mash-up’ of Canon in D, A River Flows in You and Turkish March!

There truly was something for everyone on Saturday, which also featured a range of incredibly popular Virtual Reality experiences, a Festival stretch tent packed with activities and performances including a Culturalicious experience from the Languages department, STEM workshops with coding and a chance to meet Olive our resident robot. The stretch tent also provided the perfect venue for our musicians and featured performances by pupils and staff – Music Alive!, Buskers’ Corner and, as the sun set on the first day of Founder’s Weekend, live Jazz with canapes – a particular treat for those who stayed to watch The Lion King on Saturday evening.

Sunday was Community Day – dedicated to our pupils, to our alumnae and our members of our local community. Starting with yoga for our pupils in the Cloisters, followed by a leisurely brunch for pupils and alumnae, as well as the open afternoon for members neighbours of the school – Sunday had a very relaxed vibe. There were opportunities to watch many of the performances from Saturday, lots of fun activities including bungy-trampolining, festival face painting and even a magician, as well as the fun and ever-so-slightly competition alumnae vs pupils lacrosse and hockey matches on the sports field, cheered on by family and friends on the sidelines. Firm favourites of the afternoon for our pupils were The Great Downe House Bake Off, especially as they were able to eat the entries once judging was complete, as well as the exciting Bring the House Downe music ensemble competition. We called time on this year’s event with a delicious BBQ supper provided by our outstanding Catering department.

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