Since the 1960s, Oundle School’s Community Action programme has linked school pupils with Oundle neighbours, as well as communities further afield in Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and Peterborough.
For the last ten years, Liz Turnbull has been at the head of the programme delivery, scheduling 50 staff members and 350 pupils a week to work at schools and meet with the elderly in care homes, the 660 Club and in their own homes. Across five different cares homes, twenty different schools and thirty elderly hosts, as well as fifty visitors, she is on a first name basis with everyone.
Mrs Turnbull joined the CA programme eighteen years ago, before she took over as head in 2012. In the 1960s, the programme was just a few hours a week, but building on the long-established CA tradition at Oundle organised by her predecessors, she introduced more programmes to promote wider participation. While most of the activities take place on a Wednesday afternoon, activities also now take place every day of the week.
Many of the pupils go to visit elderly hosts in their homes. Rita Johnson and her husband have pupils visiting them regularly. They appreciate the help of two girls who come and pitch in with chores, including cleaning the car, shopping and painting furniture. Mrs Johnson said that “in our dotage” they enjoyed the company of teenagers in house. “They’ve been an absolute joy.”
Gill Moreton inherited CA visits from her father. Pupils used to visit him before he passed away in 2019. She said they attended his funeral, and now new pupils continue to visit her in his old home where she lives. Two girls help her do chores in the garden and make tea.
“They make me feel young again. One afternoon we got out my record player and played Motown. They hadn’t heard the music before. They couldn’t believe how good the player was,” she said.
Networking with other organisations in town is key to the success of the CA programme. Mrs Turnbull stresses the importance of not working in isolation, and has established long-standing relationships with other organisations supporting vulnerable people such as St Peter’s Church, the Munch Club and Oundle’s Volunteer Action.
“Geographically, the school and the town are very much integrated. It’s very important for pupils to establish good relationships and work closely with the town,” she said.
The pandemic forced many cutbacks in the programmes, particularly because most of the people they work with were classed as vulnerable. “It wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that the last couple of years trying to run community action during Covid has not been the easiest.”
During the lockdowns Mrs Turnbull personally stayed in touch with all of the elderly hosts and visitors and helped co-ordinate deliveries of groceries and prescriptions. Chrissie Hassall has hosted CA boys weekly for eleven years. She greatly appreciates Mrs Turnbull’s support.
“Liz was amazing during lockdown. She turned up with cakes made by school pupils, and did lots of shopping for people. It made a huge difference.”
When the pupils were back at school after the lockdowns, but unable to make home visits, they phoned each of their hosts every week for a chat, and made gift bags to deliver to them. Mrs Hassall said that “the boys even came and talked to me through the window.” The community programme acted as a source of comfort for many during lockdown.
“I feel proud about what we’ve achieved in Community Action. I’ve really loved working with pupils and all the hosts that we support,” Mrs Turnbull said.
After 18 years of working at Oundle, she is looking forward to spending more time on other projects.
In her role as head of CA, Mrs Turnbull also expanded their outreach to support children in Kenya. She first visited Gilgil Special School and Kivuli Trust Hostels in 2014 with teachers from Oundle School and the Phoenix Special School (now Lime Academy) in Peterborough.
Kivuli provides access to boarding education for special needs children who would not otherwise be able to attend school. She has visited a number of times and helped set up the Kivuli child sponsorship programme. She has organised a number of fundraising initiatives and trips for visitors from the UK to see the work of the staff and meet the children.
“What we hope is that the children will progress through the education system in Kenya and then be in a position to change the direction of their own lives, and also change the direction potentially of their family’s lives as well.”
Mrs Turnbull is now a trustee of the Kivuli Trust at Gilgil School, and was part of a team that set up the Marafiki Trust to support children living in the Nairobi slums. The names of the trusts reflect their mission: “kivuli” means shelter and “marafiki” means friendship in Swahili.
She says the essence of the projects are about the relationships that are maintained with the children in Kenya, as well as with the team members.
“We know all the children and we can connect regularly with the team out there. I think the beauty of what we do is that we consider our relationship with the teams out there to be a friendship built on trust. We have a joint goal that we want to achieve.”
Mrs Turnbull is not yet leaving Oundle. When she is not travelling to support her Kenyan projects, she will be around Oundle to volunteer with CA activities. Her many friends across the community will still be able to share her company.
“I am not regarding myself as retiring. I’m regarding myself as going off on my gap years,” she said.
Community Action hosts a variety of free activities during term time throughout the school year, and welcomes enquiries from anyone who would like to participate. Among the activities on offer: Community Art for adults and accompanied children with disabilities or learning difficulties; tea and entertainment for the over 60s at the 660 Club; afternoon ICT classes offering help and instruction with new devices and online use; Home Visits; and Flymo garden assistance with weeding, strimming and mowing.
Twice a year CA hosts Have a Go Day, a favourite date in the calendars of special needs clubs and schools. Adults or children with physical disabilities or learning difficulties are welcome to sign up for a fun day of activities that include swimming, badminton, basketball,archery, football, indoor rowing, crazy golf, face painting, boccia, yoga, music and art.
Polly Dolby, the new Head of Community Action, is the point of contact for anyone wishing to participate in any of the many Community Action programmes. Having grown up above her parents’ art gallery on West Street, Ms Dolby knows Oundle and its surrounding communities. She was head chorister at Peterborough Cathedral before studying History of Art at the Courtauld Institute in London. She previously worked on planning and running arts events, and most recently worked for Creative Oundle. She lives in Oundle with her husband and their two children.
To register for all activities, please contact Polly Dolby or Helen Hardy.
Community Action Office: 01832 277267