There can’t be many single-sex state secondary schools in London still going strong, in the same area, since 1862. Yet NW5′s oldest educational institution, originally set up by the public-spirited businessman William Ellis, has just celebrated its 150th anniversary. And as an old Elysian, I swung by last month, along with other alumni, for an evening of sharing memories, chatting about the future, and to meet some of the current pupils.
The reunion highlighted not just how much talent the school has produced across every profession, but also its impact as a reference point for the local community.
Reunions tend to involve people whose origins are far and wide, whereas William Ellis has always been a school for boys growing up in this pocket of North West London. So it wasn’t just people with a shared a memory of dread at the cold showers after PE, but also a shared knowledge of the local area, with the school as a focal point.
William Ellis has experienced plenty of upheaval in recent years and probably isn’t at the same academic level as its era as a grammar school in the 1950s, but what was clear from catching up with everyone was how an institution manages to withstand, adapt and embrace the changes around it. William Ellis still reflects the local area, as it has done since the 19th century, so today it’s a melting pot of boys from all social and ethnic backgrounds. With the UK’s business leaders increasingly valuing ‘inter-cultural skills’ in their workforce, this means Elysians leave school with invaluable experience. It might not show up on a certificate but is a huge life advantage. Ellis 1, Highgate 0.
Headmaster Sam White detailed the fundraising appeal for much-needed new buildings and how alumni can also support the school by volunteering to offer careers advice through the Future First charity. Future First was founded by Elysians and began in 2009 at the school, but is now leveraging alumni networks to offer inspiration to young people in over 500 state schools nationwide. Yet another example of people living out the William Ellis motto, ‘Rather Use Than Fame’.
At the reunion we posed the question ‘Why does it matter – 150 years of William Ellis?’ to a variety of the school’s many supporters, who have offered their memories below. And if you have any, however recent or ancient, please feel free to add them to the comments below.
Words: Tim Sowula
Interviews: Tim Sowula & Alex Smith