How far would you travel just to buy your old school uniform?

01 May 2020

We’re St Bees.  We’re one of the most unique schools in the UK.  Not only for our one-of-a-kind, bespoke Fusion Curriculum.  Not only for the fact we can claim the most Northerly Eton Fives Courts in the world (come and ask us… you’re in for a treat).  And not only because we have the country’s oldest, still functioning indoor school swimming pool.

We’re unique because we are situated in a village the furthest away from any motorway within the UK.  The nearest International airport may be a mere 1 hour away, but it only flies to Dublin, London and Belfast.  But that doesn’t mean we’re hidden away.

Our beautiful location, situated on the fringe of the UNESCO World Heritage Lake District National Park, on a stunning coastline, with our 250 acres of land makes us one of the safest and phenomenal locations within this country.  But the awkwardness to get here can put some people off.

I hasten to add… can.

But it doesn’t and it hasn’t.  And here is the tale of one man, who defied all odds, just to return to the school he called home for four years.

Picture the scene.

The day before term resumes.  We’re all in a Teacher Training session – ironically learning about safeguarding.  From the corner of our eyes, we suddenly spot movement on the terrace outside.  A family of Chinese playing on our expansive lawn, looking for a way to contact us inside.

Diligently following our concurrent refresher, I make my way outside only to meet a family – Father, Mother, three children, and nephew. The Father of this family, late 30s, Chinese, proclaims he used to be a student at the school and wanted to come back to see it.

This isn’t out of the ordinary.  On average, St Bees does receive approximately one enquiry per week relating to similar requests.  A true testament of the impact such a historic and noble school had on its students.  This gentleman, however, was different.  As we enquire how long he can stay (we really do need to finish our Teacher Training), he notes that he is merely here for the afternoon – he wants to buy some old school uniform – and best yet, he has driven for ONE MONTH, from China to St Bees, to come and do this.  They would be travelling home tomorrow.

Yes, you read correctly.  Steven Xie (2000-2004 at St Bees), bundled his family into the car on July 23rd and drove from China, to the West coast of England arriving Thursday 29th August – 12,000 miles and many many countries later through Mongolia, Russia, Finland, Denmark.  He arrived in his Chinese car… to buy some old school uniform.  With tears in his eyes, he explains what an impact one small place had on him during his time in St Bees.  And then he drove straight to Edinburgh and flew his family home.  What about the van?  Well, it is being shipped back to China.

When we asked Steven what made him want to take the trip Steven replies “St Bees School has always been special to me”.  His rationale for driving rather than flying?  “To have an epic road trip with my kids”.  What a legend.  When discussing the countries visited, Steven announced that the “most beautiful” place he saw was the Lake District.

At St Bees, our vision here is ‘where West meets East’… and what a perfect example of this sentiment.  The Western coastline of the beautiful Lake District has met and welcomed this family home from China, after 1 month of travelling and many, many miles on the road.