On a beautiful April evening of blossom and soft blue skies, The Newcastle Royal Grammar School proudly hosted an inaugural President’s Supper for the North East Chamber of Commerce. Guest speaker and RGS alumnus Leo Pearlman, co-founder and managing partner of television and film production company Fulwell 73, completed a celebration of northern spirit and aptitude.
The sign of a good evening must surely be warm handshakes, good music and conversation so lively that requests for diners to take their seats need to be made several times. When senior members of the region’s business community gathered at the heart of the school, the energy in the oak-panelled hall was palpable, although the RGS is no stranger to the effervescence of community spirit. Through 500 years and various city sites, young people have passed through the safe hands of the school’s gatekeepers. With the Chamber representing 200 years of business support, there was no doubt that ‘the hand of history’ was felt on shoulders. The RGS, with its commitment to raise aspirations, educational attainment, skills and employability, not just for its 1300 students but across the region, walks hand in hand with the Chamber and its avowal that ‘Together we grow stronger’.
Headmaster Geoffrey Stanford welcomed guests; thanked sponsors TSG for their tireless efforts to provide excellent in-school IT provision; and expanded on the evening’s sense of shared purpose. Ambition to achieve social impact and absolute certainty that the North East is a place of infinite potential drive the school’s bursary programme and partnerships work; a long history of practical philanthropy with the RGS as ‘Free School’ now manifests as funding from local industry, individual donations and work with partner schools across four northern counties, offering life chances to those not just in school, but in the wider community. Bursaries make ‘levelling up’ a reality rather than a soundbite, ensuring that young people have access to life-changing opportunities regardless of financial circumstances. Governor and Chair of the RGS Bursary Campaign, Nigel McMinn, warmed to this theme, well-placed within the business community to understand the vital pipeline from education to workplace.
Leo Pearlman’s call to action was part love-song to the region and part clarion-call to those who share his sentiments. It was with, he suggested, some incredulity that his own mother would view his successes, having had to suffer his ‘grievous misbehaviour’; the school hall for young Pearlman was a site of reckoning. That rebel spirit may have greyed some hair but has seen him move from project to stellar project, whilst being steadied by the magnet of true north and the ‘name of our company…that forever reminds us of where we come from, and of what is possible if you just dare to dream’. He spoke of ‘a region which, let’s be honest, relies on its own personality, its strength of character, its stubbornness to survive and to thrive.’ Although Hollywood might know about the North-East and Sauron-like, has turned its febrile gaze on its castles, beaches and moorland, this is only in terms of its potential as a location. ‘Well, it’s time for the North East to turn the page on its own story. To take its seat at the top table of a rapidly growing industry and reshape the economic geography of the creative sector.’ With momentous plans for development on the banks of the River Wear at the former site of Pallion Shipyard, Crown Works as it was formerly known, is to become Crown Works Studios, one of Europe’s largest film-making complexes, providing over 8000 jobs.
RGS Sixth Form students about to sit A level Film Studies might only have to look ‘over the water’ to see their futures shift and brighten. No longer will the next precious workforce set off on the road to Manchester or London like latter-day Dick Whittingtons in order to have a viable creative future.
The buoyancy generated by this address was supported with vibrant performances from talented student musicians, as guests were treated to a seasonal feast by RGS catering staff. It was understandable that a cheeky Newcastle seagull set to persistent rapping at the window, keen to join the bonhomie.
Leo Pearlman’s message underscored what was special about this evening: that we have talent in abundance and young people ready and willing to roll up their sleeves. The school and the Chamber demonstrated that great leaders are also great servants to a common cause: those young people and their futures.
Together we definitely grow stronger.