At the end of September, right before the cold weather set in, we – the 1719 Society – were lucky enough to spend two nights in the St Cassian’s Retreat Centre in Oxford. During those two days, we had valuable time to get to know one another and reflect on our mission in school, as well as what the coming year will bring for each of us.
The weather outside our little school minibus had steadily brightened as we trundled down to Oxford – surely a good sign. After four hours on the road, the beautiful grounds and majestic building of the centre finally came into sight. We spilled out of the minibus, breathing in the fresh air and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Kintbury.
In the front hall of the centre, we were introduced to the team – a group of dedicated volunteers who keep the centre running. They provided activities and conversations for us while we stayed there, and they were all super friendly and amazing to talk to – they deserve a wholehearted thank you on behalf of the Society!
Our first day’s activities were based around getting to know each other a little bit more, and spending some time in the splendid grounds of the Centre. We gathered in the De La Salle Room, which is a common room space to relax – or perhaps learn to spin plates (which I managed once and probably never will again!), before heading out to the great outdoors in two groups.
My group’s first activity was a much-needed legstretch – a walk around the centre’s surrounding fields and small neighbouring village of Kintbury. The area was absolutely beautiful, and my friends and I agreed that it would not be a bad place to live whatsoever. The walk also gave me a chance to get to know some of the volunteers working at St Cassian’s: we had some great conversations and I really felt like I was speaking to a friend I had known much longer than an hour or so.
Next up was an activity I had spotted on the itinerary and was super excited about – the low ropes course! This was new since last time I had been to the centre and I was dying to try it out. When we were all kitted out in (naturally mega-fashionable) hard hats, we made or way into the cover of the trees, where the course was waiting for us. And it definitely lived up to expectations! Each activity was like a puzzle to solve – how can we all get from one platform to the next without falling? Sometimes armed with tools – a plank of wood, a set of ropes – we put our brains to use and found solutions (albeit with a little help from the St Cassian’s team on occasion). My many years spent on adventure playgrounds certainly came in handy – balancing on a rope was not a skill I imagined I would be using on this retreat, but the activity really helped us to work together and play to each other’s capabilities.
After that, the 1719 society and the teachers had some planning/catching up time, to see where every strand is up to and what goals they have to achieve for this year. This was where we all had discussions, asked for another stands’ help if needed to, and overall talked about our plans. The morning following we had a trip to Oxford, where we all had a few hours to visit the shops, eat and really see how beautiful the city is. However shortly before that we visited the De La Salle brothers’ house. This is a house the brothers share to work, read, write, etc.
Every evening after dinner we would go up to the quiet room for collective worship, evening prayers and self-reflection. Each night, a different member of the team would lead the prayer. We were able to share our thoughts and feelings and even write a prayer of our own too.
On the second night we watched the film ‘when the game stands tall’. A moving film about an American football team from De La Salle. Throughout the movie they had to overcome heart-breaking losses, and as a team, they had to rediscover who they were. Although they suffered defeat, they kept trying, even when they wanted to give up. The movie was inspirational, it teaches us to never give up in hard times, it provides hope that better times will come, and that we can all achieve anything we want to if we only put our minds to it.
During the trip we all became closer and learnt how to work well in a team, relying on others and trusting their solutions to different problems. One of the best examples of teamwork and team bonding was on the low ropes. We enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to get across to the other side as a team, whilst having fun during the process. Another one of our favourite parts of the trip was going into Oxford. We were given the chance to walk around and look at all the beautiful buildings, shop and eat. This trip has allowed us all to become more confident and has helped us to grow closer to the society. We are now all ready to continue our journey as members of the 1719 Society and together we are hoping to leave a lasting impact on the Lasallian community.