Now that the first snowfall of the year is behind us, there are signs that Spring is on its way: the first crocuses are starting to appear; the mornings and evenings are getting lighter; exam classes are starting to emerge from hibernation to begin the annual cycle of Parent Conferences, revision and mock papers; all around the campus, there are signs of a seasonal shift.

There is a quiet, industrious buzz about Wellington at this time of year.

In assembly on Monday, Mrs Patterson celebrated the coming of Spring with reference to George Orwell’s ‘Thoughts on the Common Toad’, an extract she had chosen for inclusion in ‘Synthesis’. Written in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, at a time of austerity and political uncertainty, Orwell rejoices in the comforting rhythms, routines and delights of nature – in particular, the Toad’s ability to “salute the coming of Spring after his own fashion”. Orwell’s message is one that resonates: in turbulent times, whether on a personal or national level, reviving our childhood fascination with nature makes a “peaceful and decent future” a little more likely. As Orwell writes: “The point is that the pleasures of Spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing”.

But I wonder whether Orwell would derive the same comfort from the natural world today. In the news this week were alarming reports from the first global scientific review: the world’s insect population is plummeting; there are suggestions that insects could vanish altogether within a century. Due to our methods of food production, we are facing the “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.

In the face of such apocalyptic rhetoric, Orwell’s message takes on a new urgency. Plastics are choking our oceans, pesticides and pollutants are contaminating our earth. Our world is fragile and vulnerable, and while we can still find comfort and solace in nature, our role now must be to actively protect it, and to find ways to repair it. In the words of Sir David Attenborough, humanity holds the future of the planet “in the palm of its hands”.

It is heartening that this desire to nurture and protect is becoming increasingly important to Wellingtonians. There is a genuine passion for sustainability amongst the students and staff in the College and this is manifesting itself in numerous ways: our student-led ESS society has recently launched Meat-Free Mondays in a drive to make us reflect on the environmental impact of eating meat; we are no longer supplying water in plastic bottles at Parent Conferences and we will issue the same directive for Speech Day in May; all around the College, our catering teams have been looking at ways to reduce the amount of single-use plastics – and with impressive results. As Graham Heffer, General Services Manager explained to students on Wednesday, we have reduced the number of plastic cups being used in the College from roughly 1.5 million cups a year to 0! In addition, I was delighted to hear this week that Crowthorne had been given a Plastic Free Communities award and I am proud of the part the College has played in this.

In the grand scheme of things, these are small changes, but they matter.

On Wednesday, we saw just what we can achieve through collective effort. The College hosted its first Sustainability Day, an event conceived and orchestrated by Head of Sustainability, Ana Romero. Guest of Honour, Her Excellency Ms Guisell Morales-Echaverry, the Nicaraguan Ambassador to the UK, spoke about Nicaragua’s “green revolution”; students made pledges in Selangor Court; and Waterloo Hall housed an exhibition of local, national and international organisations, from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Ana Romero’s hope for the day was that we would all reflect on the importance of team work, critical thinking, inclusivity and collaboration in response to the post-Paris Climate (COP 21) agenda, and the Sustainable Development Goals: “To achieve these goals, we need to understand them, look at actions we can all take and realise that we are all in this together”.

Sensing the enthusiasm and engagement amongst the students and staff on Wednesday gave me renewed hope for Orwell’s “peaceful and decent future”.

It is true that there is a quiet, industrious buzz about Wellington. But, on reflection, this has nothing to do with the shifting seasons. It has everything to do with the Wellington spirit: that is, active engagement, purpose, kindness, and a desire to make a difference in the world.

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