Inspiring Stories Highlighted at Haberdashers’ Monmouth School’s Wellbeing Conference

June 27, 2024

Inspirational speakers enthused audiences of pupils, staff and parents at the Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools Wellbeing conference this week.

Antarctic Fire Angels, Georgina Gilbert and Rebecca Openshaw-Rowe, are firefighters who pioneered a new route across the South Pole from Union Glacier to Constellation Inlet in 52 days, 10 hours and 30 mins. The impressive duo spoke about their journey from qualification and research, including cold water immersion in Sweden and Norway, to preparation, fundraising and decisions on food and routes. Both women are keen to inspire other women to achieve their dreams in the face of barriers – they cited the example of a 45-year-old man being able to buy insurance for such a trip but that a 45-year-old woman could not. They commented: “We risked our lives to prove a point” and are keen to change the narrative of what it means to be a girl.

Their talk encompassed their challenges from navigating through large sastrugi (sharp, irregular grooves or ridges formed on a snow surface by wind erosion and deposition) to suffering from skin damage due to the extreme cold. On one occasion, their clear compass, upon which they were reliant, was lost on the snow proving difficult and dangerous to locate. Georgina and Rebecca spoke about how they felt they could air their frustrations with each other, the bonding experience of a shared sense of humour and the importance of letting things go and moving on.

Their talk enthralled audiences who questioned the pair on the food they chose, the effect of the daylight on sleeping and the impact of the expedition on their lives now.

Deputy Head Pastoral, Mr David Edwards, spoke about, and on behalf of, “living legend” Mr David Lofthouse who unfortunately was unable to attend. David Lofthouse, who was born with cerebral palsy, is a former pupil of Wellington College where Mr David Edwards was Housemaster. David Lofthouse, who is now studying at Warwick university, had watched for two years, his peers run a 5K course and decided that he wanted to take part as well. For David Lofthouse this was a huge feat and meant that he would walk on his crutches for 5km.

Mr. David Edwards highlighted how a sense of belonging, safety, value, and being heard contributes significantly to human flourishing. He commented that barriers to belonging, such as disability, can be overlooked by those without direct connection to such challenges.

David Lofthouse, with the help of his peers, set up The Cerebral Palsy Trust to raise awareness and support for the cerebral palsy community. A moving video of David Lofthouse’s remarkable endeavour was shown to the audience which depicted wonderful community support, team-work, determination and celebration of completion of this challenge.

Alicia Drummond, a BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited therapist and founder of The Wellbeing Hub spoke about themes of self-esteem, self-efficacy (confidence in your own competence), self-awareness and self-management. She also gave tips on resilience and parenting styles and suggestions for helping young people to build confidence and competence through household chores.

The conference was a wonderful, insightful and uplifting experience for our community, vividly illustrating how challenging times, personal challenges and barriers can be approached with a sense of determination and community cohesion to further contribute in helping everyone to feel they belong and can flourish.