Merchant Taylors' and St Helen's 46th Phab week
This year Merchant Taylors' opened its doors to 22 disabled guests who stayed the week of the 2nd April at the school and enjoyed three day trips out to other locales. 44 students were involved, 22 from Merchant Taylors' School, and 22 from St Helen's. Over 30 staff were involved over the course of the week meaning on two days we had nearly 100 people on the move. We have been recruiting and fundraising for Phab week 2018 since September 2017 (and planning it a whole year). The week reminded everyone why all the hard work, marathon runs, late-nights and Sunday sacrifices are worthwhile.
The best way to describe Phab week is go through each day.
Monday - the animals
Phab students arrived at 10am and revised their hoist training with nurses and set up their rooms for the week. A panoply of food rich in E numbers was arranged in an orderly row in EN3 where our night duty room was set up. Following a pep talk and lunch, we awaited our new arrivals. By 2.00pm the hall was starting to fill with expectant guests and apprehensive parents and carers. The Phab boys and girls met with parents/carers and guests to check final details but most students had already met their guests in the run up to Phab week. By 3pm a farm had arrived and been set up in our Parade Ground. Usually the Combined Cadet Force are marching across its concrete. But this day one could hear the bulls snuffling, llamas yammering, rabbits snuggling. It showed the students how quickly Phab's magic works - in an instant the school had been transformed into zoo and it would undergo many more transformations by the week's end. After dinner, we had a man who dubs himself "Safari Pete" (and given his mannerism, his hero must be Steve Irwin), come in and dangle dead chickens in front of hungry lizards. The grizzly scenes which ensued made for quite a contrast to the kindness the boys and girls exhibited throughout the week. So ended the first day and we saw that it was good.
Tuesday - sky-diving and sledging
By some miracle we managed to get everyone to Milton Keynes by 11.30am (we still aren't sure how this happened - but I suspect it was the employment of our most important skill - gumption). Many guests got the opportunity to take part in indoor skydiving and sledging. The concept was that those bound to a wheelchair could be unbound by gravity in both cases. Some exceptional efforts from Phab staff made the day run smoothly.
Wednesday - Electric Umbrella
Electric Umbrella, a musical charity based in Watford who work especially with those with learning disabilities, took over MTS for a single day and transformed the whole school site into a sound board. In the evening we carried on the theme with selection of karaoke greats.
Thursday - Thames Valley Place adventure centre
Thames Valley Place is a special centre designed around people with disabilities. There are soft play areas, sensory rooms, outdoor adventure zones, go carts, craft areas. We even made cupcakes and rocky-roads. In the evening we had a camp fire beside the lakes where we toasted marshmallows and sipped hot chocolate.
Friday - fire-brigade, swimming, sailing, theatre group
The morning began with the fire-brigade showing guests how their equipment worked. Midway through this demonstration someone (who will forever remain nameless) whispered to one of the guests that it might be a good idea to fire the hose crowd-ward. And so it began - a good half hour of being blasted with cold water. We headed next straight to the pool which had been super-heated for our arrival. Whilst some guests and hosts went off to sail on the lakes. In the afternoon, a theatre troupe came in to awaken our guests' inner Hamlet. The night was rounded off with a cinema evening. The Head Master committed himself to the Phab cause by completing a night-duty not before generously allowing the boys to beat him at Call of Duty.
Saturday - St Helen's, rock-climbing, painting, fancy dress disco
We ventured to St Helen's on Saturday to ascend their rock climbing wall and take part in some painting sessions led by art teachers. In the evening, we returned to MTS and had our fancy dress disco which rounds off the week. At night, all the boys gathered round Paddy, our joint longest attending guest, as he read a tale from Thomas the Tank Engine. It is a moving experience, for as he struggles through the story, the boys see an image of the week, and no one wants to hear the story's end.
Sunday - celebratory breakfast and clean up
Parents of guest and host come for a celebratory breakfast where we award each guest for something they brought to the week. It was heartening to see the students so enthusiastically effusive about their guest when they spoke to the hall. Once guests had left, we spent the next four hours tidying the school up. It is a harder task than cleaning the Augean stable because not only are we exhausted but we seem caught in a collective melancholy because the aura of the special week we created seems to have left with the guests. What we cling onto is the idea Phab week will run again next year and has been doing so for 46 years in a row now.
What is striking about the whole week, especially to those outside of Phab who come in to visit and see what we do, is how caring students are to each other and their guest. The week is a manifestation of what Merchant Taylors' boys and St Helen's girls exude - a sense of decency and kindness.
David Gibbons (English, Head of Phab)