Before the pandemic struck, some Wellington parents approached me to discuss the possibility of us finding the right location and concept for a new work of art at the College. The mother, a sculptor specialising in bronze, was keen to create a new piece as a mark of gratitude and to accompany her son’s graduation in the summer of 2021. In the initial discussions, we agreed that something modern and dynamic to mark Wellington’s journey from being an all-boys’ school to a fully coeducational environment would be the perfect concept.

Fast-forward 18 months and the work entitled ‘United’ now stands proudly outside the G W Annenberg theatre having been installed at the end of last term. The piece depicts a man and a woman dancing in a dynamic embrace and, as Murray Lindo commented at the unveiling in June, the sculpture acts as a tantalising amuse bouche before the passer-by moves into our home for the performing arts for the main course!

Against the backdrop of the past 18 months and the full reopening of the College this week, with pupils permitted once more to mix fully and parents allowed back on site without restriction, ‘United’ has taken on an additional meaning. To me the sculpture will always be a celebration of coeducation and the performing arts, but it also symbolises the coming back together of the Wellington community after a year and a half during which we have been anything but united. As one parent recently wrote to me, it is “a symbol of the energy, hope and connection that personifies the College, even in the most challenging of times”. I do hope that those of you who have not seen the work yet will be able to enjoy it when you are next on site and in the vicinity of the GWA.

Wellington College was, of course, founded as an all-boys’ school, a fact literally hewn into the masonry of the front quad with the original motto – HEROUM FILII – ‘the sons of heroes’. This reflects our original charitable purpose which was to offer an education for free to the orphan sons of deceased army officers. This charitable foundation still operates today, albeit with a slightly wider catchment: the daughters and sons of all armed forces families can now access the foundation, and we translate the motto as ‘the children of heroes’ to reflect this.

In September 1975 the first ever girls arrived at Wellington but only into the Sixth Form. Eight courageous pioneers joined the College that year and the Apsley was created three years later to be the girls’ Sixth Form House. Fast-forward to 2006 and the first girls arrived into the Third and Fourth Forms when the Orange was converted from a boys’ house into a girls’ community, and so this year marks the 15th birthday of full coeducation at Wellington. Happy Birthday Orange!

Other houses have also followed this journey – the Combermere, Hopetoun and Hardinge – and, more recently and contemporaneously, the Talbot where twelve equally courageous and pioneering girls have arrived this week. It is my sincere hope that we will be able to build an 18th boarding house – a coeducational Sixth Form community weighted slightly in favour of girls – in the years ahead. If so, our school community will become a genuinely balanced, fully coeducational one with the same number of boys and girls at the College by September 2025.

I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it has been this past week to unite the Wellington community once more and to begin what I hope will be an exciting new post-COVID chapter for the College. We also look forward with great excitement to reuniting the parental body – both fathers and mothers – in the weeks and months ahead as we take our initial steps on the next stage of our journey together.

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