Last week I had the pleasure of catching up with Grant Lawrence, Head of Physical Education at Dorothy Stringer in Brighton, where Will’s children went to school. Two years ago Will Jones helped to put together a trip that saw the school’s rugby team touring South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal, which stretches from the Drakensberg Mountains to Durban. Grant called it an amazing trip that he wouldn’t forget in a hurry. The trip was a chance for school students in the UK and Africa, who would otherwise never have come into contact to meet. Grant later said this opportunity was something that very well may have inspired the subsequent GCSE grades where 91.7% of the students achieved A*-C grades.
Simon: How did you first get into rugby?
Grant: I grew up in Purley, South of Croydon and went to a very good rugby school called John Fisher and basically fell in love with the sport. From that moment set my sights on a career that was something to do with rugby.
Simon: When did you start working at Dorothy Stringer?
Grant: I finished my a-levels, I went to university and started looking at a couple of schools to teach at. Around that time I got a call from the head of PE at Dorothy Stringer, who had contacted my university and said they were looking to start up rugby and is anyone interested in teaching it. I got sent here for an interview and the rest is history really. That was 14 years ago.
Simon: Where’s Dorothy Stringer with rugby now compared to when you joined?
Grant: The school never even did rugby when I got here. Now we’re an established, rugby-playing state school. More than established actually, we’re competitive, not just Brighton and Hove, but across the county and last year we had a team that got to the semi-finals of the nationals. We’ve won three county cups and got to numerous county cup finals. The team’s grown and now we’ve got two other teachers that run the rugby with me.
Simon: How did you meet Will Jones?
Grant: I didn’t even know Will. He was just a parent who had heard about the possibility of a rugby tour. I got into a conversation with him and we had coffee. We had tried a few years previously to do a tour and just hadn’t been able to raise the funds to get it off the ground. He asked if I had ever thought of touring South Africa and went from there really. Without him initially making contact with me I don’t know if it would have happened. I got loads of recognition for the tour, but Will was probably just as influential in the whole thing.
I was smug about the fact that we managed to beat some of the best private rugby schools in South Africa. It’s quite unique. Because the private sector puts so much into scholarships and school sports, in specifically rugby and hockey and netball, it is very rare that state schools can compete with the private sector.
Simon: Any future trips planned?
Grant: We just had the second rugby tour, which was a trip to Argentina this time. I couldn’t go to this one as my wife was heavily pregnant with our first child, but it was another huge success.
We’ve decided to change how these trips look for the future though. Quite a few of the parents couldn’t afford it this time around and it took a monumental amount of work and planning.
So, the school actually owns an outdoor centre in Wales so we’ll keep all the tours in house from now on. We’ve already got quite a lot of sports trips and school trips planned there. This will give the kids much more of an affordable opportunity to go away on sports tours and outdoor adventure trips. If there was one negative of the South Africa and Argentina trip, it was that it was quite expensive and took a lot of work for 24 students to raise the funds, whereas this will take much money and should impact about five or six hundred children a year.
Simon: Anything else?
Grant: Another mention is that the Big Yellow self storage sponsored us £8,500, which again Will set up. He introduced me to the CEO, a guy call Jimmy – James – Gibson, and after going out for a couple of lunches and beers with him, he agreed to sponsor the tour and the next one £8,500 so £17,000 altogether. Huge kudos to Will for helping me set that up.
A big thank you to Grant. Following the story of Dorothy Stringer’s tour of South Africa from beginning to end gives one a real idea just how difficult it is to get something like this off the ground, especially financially. Its worth, however, is impossible to measure in terms of costs – or even results. For all the boys fortunate enough to go to South Africa, the opportunity to enjoy both the differences and similarities (to their own) of their host’s cultures, and to engage in such an extraordinary environment (urban and rural), will have given them something for life. And for this, we owe a great deal to the dedication, talent and vision of teachers like Grant Lawrence.