Exhibition Celebrates 100 Years of Community Strength

01.02.2024
Exhibition Celebrates 100 Years of Community Strength

A new exhibition has gone on display which showcases a century-long relationship between the village of Benenden and one of the UK’s leading schools.

The exhibition held in St George’s Church was put together by Benenden School students Serena, Astrid, Elsa and Delilah, who worked alongside the School’s archivist, Abegail Morley, and Director of Partnerships, Nick Rendall.

The exhibition – part of the School’s Centenary celebrations – charts the valuable relationship between the School and village, from the early days when the estate was identified as a suitable site for the School, through to the myriad modern-day partnerships, such as the School buying the village shop premises for the community and preparing lunches for pupils at Benenden Church of England Primary in Benenden School’s kitchens.

Benenden School Headmistress Samantha Price said: “We are deeply proud of and committed to our close relationship with the local community and will do everything we can to not just maintain this but to develop it even further.

“Benenden offers each girl A Complete Education and a key part of this educational philosophy is ensuring that she leaves School with a strong sense of responsibility to make a difference in the communities she encounters throughout her life. We believe that getting involved in the local community while here at School is a vital and mutually beneficial experience and it is wonderful to see the enthusiasm our students have for getting involved in volunteering and other partnership work.”

Benenden School opened in September 1923, originally at a temporary site in Bickley before moving to the mansion at Hemsted Park in early 1924. Since then the School has established itself as one of the leading girls’ schools in the world.

The exhibition presents the strong relationship in a variety of formats, from historical texts and newspaper cuttings from the last 100 years to examples of old uniforms and archived photographs of the School. In creating the exhibition, Benenden unearthed original adverts, alongside stories from long-serving members of staff from the village.

The exhibition also features a snapshot of the current Benenden School volunteers within the community, an opportunity which has been absolutely embraced by students. At the last count, Benenden staff and students were volunteering around 4,000 hours per year across the community.

Students volunteer in a variety of locations, including the village shop, at Benenden Pre-school and running regular music events to help older people with memory issues. Over the past year, the community has also embraced the School’s new events venue, Hemsted Park, with residents regularly attending the varied offering of professional concerts and shows.

The exhibition was formally launched at a reception on Wednesday evening (31 January), at which the Mayor and Mayoress of Tunbridge Wells were joined by invited guests to enjoy music performed by Benenden students and speeches from Mrs Price and the Benenden Parish Council chairman, Nicola Thomas, and a blessing by the Reverend David Commander.

In her speech, Cllr Thomas praised the School’s community involvement, and highlighted the village shop project, saying: “This joint venture has been the very best example of how productive the relationship between the school and wider community has been, and should be held up nationally as a shining example of the benefit of private schools working alongside their local community for the benefit of all.

“Thank you, Benenden School, on behalf of the residents of Benenden, for your continued support and valued relationship with the village. And may it long continue.”

The exhibition is at St George’s Church until Tuesday 13 February.