Withington’s Girls’ School celebrate 128th anniversary with Dreams and Discovery

Head Girl Florence Bradshaw delivers her speech at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall

Head Girl Florence Bradshaw delivers her speech at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall - Credit: Archant

Dreams and Discovery was the theme for Withington’s Founders’ Day Celebration as the Withington Girls’ School community, enjoyed an uplifting evening of speeches, readings and music at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.

Headmistress Sarah Haslam and WGS Alumna and Neuroscentist Dr Kirstie Whitaker

Headmistress Sarah Haslam and WGS Alumna and Neuroscentist Dr Kirstie Whitaker - Credit: Archant

Pupils, parents, staff and guests enjoyed an evening filled with inspirational speeches that captured the essence of this year’s theme, empowering Withington girls to believe in their potential and to chase their dreams and ambitions. The audience was also treated to readings beautifully delivered by girls from across the year groups, as well as outstanding musical performances by Withington’s talented Third Form, Senior Choir and Orchestra. In keeping with Founders’ Day tradition, one of the highlights of the night was the gift of a book of her own choice to every girl in the Upper Sixth, presented this year by eminent neuroscientist and Withington alumna (2001), Dr Kirstie Whitaker.

During the event, the speakers, Dr Whitaker; Chair of Governors, Mr Malcolm Pike; Headmistress, Mrs Sarah Haslam and Head Girl, Florence Bradshaw, each reaffirmed the value of an holistic education in preparing girls for life beyond School. Mr Pike paid tribute to Withington’s farsighted founders whose dream, he said, was to open a school that would provide their daughters with the same educational opportunities as their sons. Their vision and principles live on today, with core values of respect for oneself and for others; integrity in teaching and learning and a focus not only on academic achievement, but the provision of an education in its widest sense, preparing girls to meet and embrace the challenges that lie ahead.

A dream of today’s Governors, he said, has been to ensure that Withington’s infrastructure and facilities equal the standard of education available - and this has been realised over the past four years with new science labs, a new Junior School, a central hub, and most recently, the opening of a state-of-the-art sport and fitness complex.

Mrs Haslam began her speech with a quote from Olympian Gail Devers: “Keep your dreams alive. Understand that to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination and dedication. Remember - all things are possible for those who believe.”

“The value of aiming high, thinking big, daring to dream and discover, and the power of collaborative working have been evident in recent events and achievements,” she said, citing examples such as Withington’s tenth Model United Nations Conference; Citizenship Day; the Junior School’s Alice in Wonderland; The Phantom of the Opera; the opening of new sport and fitness facilities by Dame Sarah Storey DBE; and the film, Ad Lucem, produced by the School Council. And lauding this year’s attainment in A-Level and GCSE examinations, results that enable girls to pursue their dreams, Mrs Haslam added, “all this at a school where there are no scholarships, no academic prizes and the emphasis instead is on collaboration, empowerment and the love of learning as its own reward.”

Dr Whitaker, now a Research Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute in Cambridge, expanded on the evening’s theme, encouraging girls to dream but also reassuring them, “It’s OK for those dreams to change”, before going on to share with the audience her own personal dream. “I want all voices to be heard. I want every academic discipline to work together to change the world. I want all lived experiences considered and acknowledged,” she said. “It’s a big dream. And it’s overwhelming. But ultimately, I’m working on my dream. I’m taking tiny baby steps towards my dream.”

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Head Girl, Florence Bradshaw, spoke of her own experiences, telling how, from a young age, she had wanted be a doctor, a dream she has continued to nurture throughout her Withington journey and one which has been encouraged by friends, subject teachers, Form teachers and Heads of Year.

“Take advantage of the many extracurricular opportunities available,” she urged the girls. “To all the year groups who are dreaming and discovering, being at Withington will assist you to achieve anything that you can ever want to.” And on the theme of discovery, Florence said that regardless of their chosen future path, there are challenges and discoveries waiting for everyone. “We leave Withington into a world that, whilst it has a myriad of serious problems to overcome, is more exciting than ever. I believe we can all play some part if we dare to dream.”

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