Reception: 01235 520173

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Executive Assistant to the Headmistress: 01235 546502

Bursary: 01235 520657

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St Helen and St Katharine, Faringdon Road, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 1BE

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24 Mar 2017

Playwriting Perfection


Winner of the 2016 SHSK Playwriting Competition, ‘I Pray You Are Safe in Coventry’ by Cara Crofts, is a moving account of a young girl's war-time experience in the town of the same name. Parents, teachers and students enjoyed a sold-out lunchtime performance in the Studio Theatre on Thursday 23rd March. This is Cara’s account of the process:

"I entered the Playwriting Competition in 2016, as a Year 7. I was delighted to receive the prize for the best entry in Years 7, 8 and 9; that I could direct my play this year alongside Ms. Pullen Campbell.

It is about the life of a twelve-year-old girl in WWII. I remember planning out different concepts that I could focus my play around. I settled on WWII because it was an interesting and emotional topic. Then, I began to think about what would actually happen. I didn’t make a real plan from the start but mainly just came up with new ideas as I wrote. I knew that I wanted the main character to be a girl of my age and for the play to be about her family, gradually being torn apart by war. I decided what would happen to members of the family, and what impact this would have on Florence. I asked my Grandmother, who was 14 in 1940, what a girl aged 12 could do to help in WWII. She gave me the idea of fire watching which built a lot of the play. I decided to set the play in an English town which was heavily bombed in WWII, Coventry. I have also incorporated what goes on there and how the people are affected. The title, “I Pray You Are Safe in Coventry” has been repeated throughout to build emotional impact.

The cast have been a delight to work with. We only have rehearsals for 40 minutes once a week so it has been difficult to pull things together but they have managed brilliantly! I am so proud of what they have achieved in such a short period of time and the positive attitude they have taken towards it. I would really like to thank Ms. Pullen Campbell for all the time and effort she has put into my play. I couldn’t have done it without her! She has been so supportive of me, and given me the chance to experiment with directing sections myself, without laying all of the work on my shoulders.

It has been a long, challenging endeavour to write, edit, direct and rehearse this play. It has been a great experience for me. I have spent a year dedicating my time and thought to this performance so am a little sad that it’s over. It was truly wonderful to watch my writing being brought to life on the stage by such talented actors and I am so thankful to everyone who has helped along the way."

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21 Mar 2017

On a high note...


The annual music festival has been taking place in YPH this week. On Sunday our most advanced performers, those in Years 11-13, at or beyond grade 8 level, gave individual 15 minute recitals to a panel of three visiting adjudicators, Luis Pares, Anthony Robb and Catherine Morgan. The performances were stunning and gave immense pleasure to the audience as well as to the judges, who had an extremely difficult job in selecting prize winners from the fourteen recitals they heard. There were nineteen recitals in the Open Class (for girls in Year 10 and above, at approximately grade 7-8 level) and performances were once again of the highest standards, showing great maturity and musicality. Enormous congratulations to everyone who participated. The results were as follows:

Recital Class

Highly Commended – Athalie Armon-Jones (violin)

3rd place – Hannah Young (voice)

2nd place – Natasha Strange (trombone)

1st place – Claire Watters (viola)

Open Class

Highly Commended – Charis Armon-Jones (violin) & Caitlin Wright (piano)

3rd place – Abi Brindley (voice)

2nd place – Libby Harris (piano)

1st place – Alice Gore (bassoon)

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20 Mar 2017

Showjumping for Joy

Members of the SHSK Equestrian Team found that their hard work paid off at the weekend, when the first St Helen’s Team to contest a qualifier for the Open class at the National Championships, not only qualified, but won the class. The team of Estelle (Y10), Mackenzie (L6), Tatiane (Y7) and Anouk (Y9) will be taking part in the team final in October (19th - 22nd October). Estelle will also contest the Open Individual final after winning the class individually, and the Advanced Open Individual final where she came 2nd individually, with Tatiane and Mackenzie coming 4th and 6th.  In all, eight riders took part in the competition hosted by St Hugh’s, with the Open riders joined in other classes by Lucy (Y11), Sophie (Y7), Fenella (Y10), and Alex (Y11) with clear rounds and individual places for many of them.  This will be the 5th successive year that St Helen’s have had riders contesting the bigger classes at the Championships, which is a outstanding achievement.

Other schools in the Championships included St Hugh's, St John's Marlborough, St Mary's Calne, Cheltenham Ladies,The Dragon, Westonbirt and Wellington College.

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20 Mar 2017

Sheldonian Surprise


On Saturday evening, as part of the school’s sponsorship of the Oxford Philharmonic concert season and accompanied by Head of Singing, Penny Grant, Charlotte (Yr 9) and Hannah (L6) were invited to attend a concert by Anne Sofie von Otter, accompanied by the Oxford Philharmonic at the Sheldonian.

Charlotte says “This was my first time listening to a professional singer and I was astounded by her confidence and beautiful tone. The orchestra was equally wonderful and it was fascinating to watch them play in perfect synchronisation and with such expressive dynamics. I was impacted greatly by the performance of Elkönig, the chilling tale of a father and child riding in the middle of the night with death tempting the child in the form of the fairy king; told eerily by the dramatic music and the piano accompaniment that mimics the sound of the horses’ hooves, punctuated by Anne Sofie’s powerful voice.

At the interval we had the honour of meeting Anne Sofie and got to ask her a couple of questions about her singing career and I was surprised to find that she only started singing when she was in her late teens. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and listening to Anne Sofie Von Otter's inspiring voice and useful advice about gaining as much choral and performance experience as possible to pursue a career in singing.”


Grammy award winning mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter is one of today's most recorded artists with an unrivalled discography built across a career spanning more than three decades at the very top of the profession.

A busy concert schedule takes Anne Sofie to all corners of the globe where she appears with the world’s leading conductors and orchestras. And an ever-evolving repertoire has played a key role in sustaining Anne Sofie's international reputation as an operatic force. 

Current season highlights include a US and European tour with trailblazing string quartet, Brooklyn Rider presenting their programme ‘So many things’ while on the opera stage Anne Sofie von Otter appears as Countess Geschwitz under Kent Nagano in Christoph Marthaler’s new production of Lulu for Staastoper Hamburg and as Leonora (The Exterminating Angel) at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.


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20 Mar 2017

Star City

A Visit to Star City, Russia

A few week's ago, 18 St Helen’s girls and 11 Abingdon boys joined Dr Chater, Mrs Lydford and Mr Thomas on the ISSET Cosmonaut Experience, accompanied by accomplished astronaut Dr Michael Foale, CBE.

We flew out from London Heathrow and arrived in Moscow on the Saturday evening. We spent Sunday exploring the Red (Beautiful) Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Kremlin. We stepped inside the Cathedral of the Assumption, glimpsing the 17th century frescoes and iconostasis. We did a little shopping at the GUM and later practiced haggling at a local market. We entered Star City’s high security complex on Saturday evening and knew immediately that we were somewhere very special. Only the second school from the UK ever to visit Star City, we were told by our guide, Sasha Vysotsky, who grew up here, that we must not photograph anything without permission, and especially not guards or fences. Once settled in to our accommodation, Mike Foale joined us for a relaxed chat, answering our questions and sharing stories from aboard the Mir and ISS. Mike was aboard the Mir when a dangerous collision with a cargo vehicle occurred, and he was able to save the station, as well as his crewmates. Over the next few days we became very familiar with the Mir space station mock-up modules used to train cosmonauts, eventually completing a scavenger hunt finding hidden items in the modules using clues transmitted via radio from “TSuP”. We took lectures in the extreme training cosmonauts endure, including weightlessness training, skydiving whilst reading out loud and preparing for survival if the descent module lands in the desert, forest or sea. We learned how to manoeuvre the Soyuz and practiced docking it using simulators. We trained in wilderness survival, learning how to build a signal fire and set up a shelter in extreme cold conditions. We undertook some Russian first aid training and learned how to carry each other. We got up close and personal with Sokhol and Orlan suits that have been to space, and met the man who trained Yuri Gagarin. We got to know Mike, sharing chats with him over breakfast and dinner. Saddened to leave, we returned to Moscow on Thursday and rode the metro to the Cosmonautics Memorial Museum and the Buran. We had a lovely final night in Moscow glimpsing the sights once more on the river boat tour. Then on Friday morning we ate our fill and bid a sad ?? ?????ยด??? ‎(do svidánija) to Russia.

The cosmonaut training experience in Russia was an incredible experience, one that we will never be able to do again, and one I will never forget. We were so privileged to be shown Star City, and to have Mike Foale as our guide, who has actually experienced all that we were shown about space, which made the experience so much more real. I learnt much more about space exploration than I could ever have done at school, and the trip definitely made me more interested in what lies beyond our planet. I have also seen a bit of the Russian culture, and felt how cold it can be on our survival training in a Russian wood in the height of winter!

A student perspective:

We flew across to snowy Moscow and spent the first days walking around Red Square, the Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the fairy-tale-like St. Basil’s Cathedral (which is actually a complex of ten smaller churches). It was great to see all the beautiful monuments and learn about Moscow’s fascinating history.

For the rest of the week, we stayed in the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City and took part in various training activities. We had a go at docking a Soyuz spacecraft with a hands-on simulator and we had a scavenger hunt around a training mock-up of the Mir space station, trying to locate little sticky notes inside the modules and using radio to confirm we had found them.

One of my favourite experiences during the trip was the Wilderness Survival Training. We had to cut down trees with machetes, collect twigs for a fire and make two different shelters. It was so much fun!

During the trip, we were fortunate enough to be guided by the astronaut Michael Foale, who spent six months in space on the Mir space station. He provided an eye-opening insight into life in space.

Everyone loved the whole experience and it will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

Hetty Mentzel


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