I started at Downe House when I was 11 and joined Hermitage, one of the three Lower School boarding houses and so Downe House has been both my school and my home-from-home for the last six years. Now I am in the Lower Sixth studying Biology, Chemistry and Maths A Levels with a view to studying Human Sciences or Neuroscience at university. It’s been a fantastic journey and one that I am delighted to share with you to give an insight into life at Downe House.
It goes without saying that at first everyone was apprehensive about joining a new school, making new friends, all the unknowns of boarding and of course being away from home for the first time. I certainly was. However, the Housestaff were and are incredible. From the Matrons to Housemistresses, they really do their best to make it a ‘home away from home’ and as clichéd as it may sound, it is so true. They are always there to scoop you up after a bad day, whether that be with a hot chocolate or simply a silly joke to make you smile. In fact, I have found this to be the case throughout Downe, from those early days in Lower School, all through my time in the Upper School Houses, and even now in Sixth Form, the Housestaff are always there to support you.
But of course it is not just the Housestaff who make Downe House so special, it’s the close friendships you start building as soon as you arrive and also the endless opportunities on offer. The first which springs to mind is the opportunity to spend a term in France during the Lower Fourth. My year group went to Veyrines, but now the School has acquired the Chateau de Sauveterre which is the new destination for the Lower Fourth girls. Coincidentally, I actually spent a term there before joining Downe and it’s a beautiful place and spending a term in France is, no doubt, an invaluable experience. You are surrounded by all your new friends, enjoy incredible food and fabulous weather, go on trips to markets and you learn to speak French while you are there too; what more could you ask for? I am certain there isn’t anyone who didn’t love their term in France.
As well as the term in France, Downe offers so many other initiatives to develop our global outlook. Later in the Lower Fourth year, a group of us were lucky enough to visit China for ten days, while other friends have taken part in the Global Schools’ Exchange Programme and spent a month or a term living and learning at partner schools in Australia, India, New Zealand, Sweden, USA and South Africa.
My first position of responsibility was as Head of Lower School and as you progress through the School, every girl is encouraged to take on responsibility and leadership roles. These can be big or small, whether that be captain of the lacrosse team, head of a student-led society or host of a talk. Slowly you build more and more confidence without even realising you are doing so. Whether you are the loud confident one, or a more reserved character, Downe caters for everyone. I remember being particularly shy when I first joined, but through being in such a positive environment and surrounded by fabulous teachers who really do care about your progress, my confidence grew and that was reflected in my academic work too. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging, constantly challenging you to not only do what you love, but do it with conviction and passion.
You see that same conviction and passion coming through in all the sport fixtures, inter-house competitions, art exhibitions, drama, dance and music productions. The inter-house competitions bring together older and younger girls with a common cause, which helps to build the close Downe House community. One of the biggest highlights of the year is the inter-house Drama competition, when teams of Lower Sixth Form girls from each of the five Upper School houses come together to create and organise their House play. Whether you’re a drama enthusiast or not, everyone gets involved – you could be a main part, a passer by in a crowd scene (that was usually me!) or in charge of lighting, costumes, make-up or props. This year, I was Producer of the AGS play, and despite it not happening due to Covid-19, it was so much fun rallying some much needed House spirit.
Personally, I think boarding has been an invaluable experience. Going from living with your family to living in a community with girls of all ages, different personalities and perspectives who come from all parts of the world, that really does prepare you for life. It teaches you so many life skills – tolerance, patience, compassion and most importantly mutual respect and kindness. What also stands out about Downe House girls is the ability that they develop to talk and communicate with anyone, from any walk of life.
Ultimately, what sets Downe apart from other schools is not just the incredible education you receive but the strong friendships you build. Through living and working together every day, you soon make very close friends, who will stick by you through thick and thin, throughout your time at School but also throughout your life. I have seen this first hand, not only from talking to the alumnae who come back to visit Downe, but also my older sister who is now 30 and her closest friends are still without a doubt all Downe House girls.
“Not only are we supported every step of the way and constantly encouraged to aim high but most importantly encouraged to study subjects we enjoy, whether they be Arts, Humanities or Sciences. Recently I have started the Downe House Oxbridge programme, which involves weekly meetings with a mentor and group tutorials to guide me through the Oxbridge process.
Lucy, Lower Sixth
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