Year 9 students take part in Round Square conference in Belfast

Last week, four students from Year 9 at Latymer and the Head of Year, Mrs Kendall, went to Northern Ireland to take part in a Round Square conference, with the theme of ‘Our Changed Environment’. The conference involved around 250 students and teachers from 29 schools in 13 countries, as far flung as Canada, USA, Dubai, Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Peru. Attendees had the opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Northern Ireland’s recent past but also consider how democratic process, conflict resolution and a collaborative approach can work together for positive change.

Our hosts, Rockport School, a tiny school just outside Belfast had really pushed the boat out, with an itinerary packed with activities and excursions all reflecting the core values and strengths of the Round Square ideals.

On the first day, the Latymer group visited the Giant’s Causeway, where Storm Gareth threatened to knock them off their feet, before taking part in some team building activities at Rockport School in the evening.

The following day there was a tour of Stormont, where the group heard an explanation of the Troubles and more recent developments in Irish politics since the Good Friday Agreement and now Brexit. In the evening our students were inspired by a talk from an incredible athlete, Mark Pollock, who became blind about 20 years ago, and subsequently paralysed from the waist down, but who continues to push himself and to take part in pioneering research to develop robotic aided limbs. Dinner was in the hotel with performances of Irish Dancing and Music by Rockport students. The whole global board of Round Square was there, with a guest visit by the former King Constantine of Greece (President and Patron of Round Square) and his wife Queen Anne-Marie.

On the final day, there was some free time to explore Belfast. Our students were really struck by the sense that there is still so much tension in some areas. There is a 40 foot wall between The Falls (fiercely Unionist with Union Jacks flying and murals extolling the virtues of the UDF and the British Army) and Shanklin Road (fiercely Republican with Irish flags and murals in Gaelic depicting armed and balaclava-clad fighters). The gates are open in the day but are locked at 6pm each day at the request of local people.

They then headed for Crumlin Road Gaol where, at the height of the Troubles, 1500 political prisoners were held in a space designed for 500. A very sobering experience. From here they headed to Titanic Belfast, a fantastic visitors centre on the site of the docks where Titanic and her sister ship Olympic were build. The centre tells the story of Belfast and its industries, and then traces the story of the building of Titanic and her disastrous maiden voyage.

All in all, this was a wonderful experience for everyone involved. Our pupils revelled in the chance to chat to people from such a variety of backgrounds. They were courageous and interested, throwing themselves into each activity with enthusiasm and open-mindedness. Round Square regional conferences provide opportunities to bring together students of different ages with peers from far and wide, to discover the pillars of Round Square in a vibrant multi-national gathering that is relatively close to home.

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