753 Benenden School Open Day Top

An extended family and a home from home

Published by Bedford Upper School on Wednesday 10th of March 2021

Like all parents, the mothers and fathers of boarders worry about their children every single day. But here, Mel Lincoln, a houseparent at Bedford Prep School, explains how her happy, homely environment offers reassurance and love and has helped contribute to the upbringing of more than 300 boys in the last decade – all of whom she remains in touch with.
When Prince Charles went off to boarding school at the age of eight, his mother said goodbye with a firm handshake.
Back then there was a general expectation for young men to button it up, keep emotions under control, show a brave face and maintain a stiff upper lip - and that stereotype has rather plagued the perception of boarding schools ever since.
So much so, in fact, that parents often feel a sense of guilt that they are choosing this option for their child – recognising the many benefits for this type of education but worried it looks like they are deserting them in some way.
As a mother myself, not just to my own two children but to the 32 boys boarding at Bedford Prep School this year, I can tell you right now that times have changed a lot since the heir apparent pulled up his socks and waved goodbye to Buckingham Palace.
I started as a houseparent when my husband Simon was appointed Boarding Housemaster of the prep school’s Eagle House in 2011.
At that time, my daughter was just four and I had a two-year-old son and the idea of caring for a load of seven to 13-year-olds too was rather daunting.
I was anxious to do my best for their parents who, like me, would be worried about who was meeting the daily needs of their children. I knew I needed to get to know them all by name, remember birthdays, help them manage their uniform, timetables, homework and behaviour and be there to listen, comfort and encourage. I knew I needed to notice their sad days, gain their trust, be their role model. It was all so overwhelming.
But actually, it came naturally to me. And what’s more, I quickly realised that all this did not fall to me alone. Houseparenting is a team effort and the housemasters, house tutors, visiting tutors, matrons, laundry ladies, cleaners and handymen all play a part.
Together we form a unique support network in which our boys thrive, grow, make mistakes and learn from them, have fun and crucially, move up the school with confidence. By the time they reach the Upper School they are organised, sociable, hard-working and well-rounded – and the boarding element of their school experience plays a huge part in this.
There is nothing more rewarding than welcoming a boy into our home as a young lad, nervous and a little homesick and watching him find his feet in the wonderful world of boarding and grow into a young man.
We see them flourish – not just academically, where boarders benefit from structure, supervision and constant access to tutor support, but in their extra-curricular activities, with more time in their days to fully participate in societies, sport, music, drama, design technology and art projects with their friends.
We also have the privilege to share in the pride of their parents who have entrusted the care of their sons to us.
Simon takes a picture of every single boarder who joins Eagle House on his first day of school, sharing those pictures with their families, both in the UK and all around the world, so that they can experience the joy of the moment.
We continue to chart their progress in this way – again sharing special moments to allow parents to be a part of their journey.
Seeing pictures of their sons learn to ride bicycles, challenge their fears on the high ropes, perform in concerts, plays and sporting fixtures, means no achievement goes unnoticed.
And it’s a wonderful way for the children to maintain their link and communication with their parents during term time.
Of course, all this is for the benefit of the boys in our care. But I can’t deny that welcoming them into our lives has also benefited us too.
As a family, we have grown, literally and figuratively.
Yes, there are nights when I get a 2am wake up. Yes, I have been to the accident and emergency department more times than I care to think – so much so that they know me by name. Yes, I have had to climb ropes, bounce on trampolines, canoe, build rafts and sit through many hours of concerts, plays and competitions.
I have watched more rugby games than Owen Farrell’s mum and more cricket matches than Bumble. And I know more about Minecraft than DanTDM.
But I adore every single minute. My children have grown up alongside these boys. And it has been a huge honour to play a leading role in their lives which is why I often shed a tear when they leave and why, as a family, we have stayed in touch with them all.
Parents who send their children to boarding school should feel immense pride in the decision they have made for their children. They are affording them an opportunity unlike any other.
These boys are getting the benefit of an incredible education along with access to a range of extra activities they might never have had the chance to explore. On top of that, they are widening the circle of people who love them – and that’s invaluable.
I cannot emphasise enough how privileged I am to be trusted with another family’s son. And unlike the Queen and her firm handshake for Charles, we welcome every boy with open arms.
An extended family and a home from home - Photo 1An extended family and a home from home - Photo 2An extended family and a home from home - Photo 3
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