Hundreds of children of Armed Forces’ families from over 30 schools in North Yorkshire have gathered in Ripon Cathedral to celebrate the unique lives of Service children.
A service on the theme of new beginnings has been held to support and welcome about 1,000 children who have moved to North Yorkshire with their families this year as a result of major basing changes in the Army. The service also provided an opportunity for children of military families already living in North Yorkshire to come together in solidarity to celebrate the rich diversity that Service pupils bring to their schools and communities.
Over 600 Service children and young people attended the Ripon Cathedral service and joined in with spoken and musical contributions last Friday. Senior figures from the military, civic and education communities were also there.
The service was led by the Dean of Ripon – John Dobson, and Canon Elizabeth Sewell, in partnership with military Padres Richard Hall and Duncan MacPherson.
The schools are members of HMS (Her Majesty’s School) Heroes, a pupil-led organisation supported by the Royal British Legion, which gives young people a voice and helps to raise the profile of Service children and explain to others the unique challenges that go hand-in-hand with being part of a military family. It also exists to represent children and young people in their schools and communities at events like Remembrance Day and Armed Forces Day.
North Yorkshire County Council secured Ministry of Defence funding to appoint two Service Pupil Champions in September 2014 to develop HMS Heroes further, bring service children together for mutual support and activities, as well as to provide bespoke support to families. As a result North Yorkshire now has the largest number of schools in the country signed up to HMS Heroes, after Plymouth, where the scheme began.
The appointment of the Service Pupil Champions comes at an important time of change with the gradual enlargement of Catterick into Europe’s largest super garrison.
A high degree of troop mobility is taking place through to 2017 with the influx of over 1,000 service children into the county as armed forces personnel return due to the drawdown of troops from Germany. In addition, as part of a wider army re-basing plan, the Light Dragoons regiment has been moved from Norfolk to Catterick. These major logistical initiatives come on top of the normal movement of regimental units into Catterick and out to postings overseas, particularly Cyprus.
For individual schools that has resulted in significant number of new starters this term. At Le Cateau primary, Catterick, for example, there has been an increase of 100 children into the school since the summer.
There are already nearly 3,000 Service pupils of school-age in North Yorkshire, one of the largest groups in the country, and the county council is recognised nationally for its good practice in the support it gives – providing advocacy for service pupils and both supporting and challenging schools to raise standards of education for services pupils.
Matt Blyton, the county council’s lead education adviser for Service families and a member of the Service Children in State Schools’ national executive, has led two delegations in the last two academic years of Local Authority officers and headteachers to the German garrisons at Hohne and Gutersloh in Germany where British army bases are closing.
Matt Blyton said:
We were there to reassure service families moving back to Catterick that North Yorkshire is ready and open for business and has a great deal of experience of supporting Service children in schools. We help to support the particular needs of Service children but we also celebrate the contributions that Service children can make to their schools and wider communities.
To reflect this contribution, a group of Nepalese Service children who have moved from Germany to Catterick, performed a Nepalese dance as part of the Ripon Cathedral service.
A “tapestry of memories” – created by an artist in residence with children in Hohne –was also handed over at the Cathedral. Lynn Eckersley, a Hohne primary headteacher who has retired to North Yorkshire, presented the tapestry with one of her ex-Hohne pupils to Matt Blyton and another Service pupil from North Yorkshire.
Schools attending the service have also contributed to an exhibition of work on the theme of new beginnings which will be on display in Ripon Cathedral during November and in the Station Gallery in Richmond during December.
County Councillor Arthur Barker, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Schools said:
This was a wonderful opportunity for Service children and young people to come together to celebrate and give thanks for their shared experiences and to show the support they have for each other.
We are very proud as a county council of the work of our advisers and our schools in supporting military families and making sure their children have access to the very best in teaching and learning. We know that Service children have a great deal to offer our school communities and we build on those experiences.
- North Yorkshire’s Service Pupil Champions operate in three areas of the county where there is a concentration of service personnel – Ripon; Dishforth, Catterick and Richmond and Bedale
- Both ‘champions’ – Annabel Hall and Nickie Young – are members of Service families and understand the pressures of military life on the ground