After more than 60 years of hosting international students at its estate in Sedlescombe, the Pestalozzi International Village Trust has confirmed that it has sold the site and will cease to operate there from the end of the summer term this July. Scholarships covering schooling in Britain for academically gifted but economically disadvantaged 16- to 20-year-olds from across the world will continue to be offered by the Trust. But the students will, from September, take up places at Atlantic College in Glamorgan, South Wales, one of 17 international schools run by global educators UWC (United World College).

Team Pestalozzi 2018

The Sedlescombe site has been bought by PGL Travel Limited, who run outdoor courses and adventure holidays for school parties and for children on holiday, as an addition to their 13 existing centres across Britain, including at Windmill Hill (this side of Herstmonceaux).

The sale follows a long period of struggle for the Pestalozzi Trust to survive financially. Its charitable mission, to identify talented children from poor backgrounds across the world and give them an opportunity to receive a wholly free secondary education in Britain, was never funded by government nor by any major commercial sponsor, but was and remains dependent upon private fund-raising, donations and legacies. Settled on the Oaklands Estate at Sedlescombe in 1957, the trust kept afloat financially by gradually selling off parts of it, including Oaklands Manor House itself in the 1970s, and several acres of land ten years ago that are now the site of half a dozen executive homes. But the money which this raised only deferred the inevitable. 

Since 1997 the trust had restricted its intake to over-16s undertaking two years of study for A levels or IB (International Baccalaureat) equivalents, having previously hosted children of much younger age. But even so, retiring CEO Sue Walton has been well aware that maintaining a full-time boarding establishment with increasing costs and declining income was, in the long run, economically unsustainable – all the more so when the British Education Funding Authority decided in recent years to reverse a previous policy that had treated the foreign students as entitled to state education without charge. In lieu, local private school Claremont has been offering a scheme of generous scholarships for the students to enrol in its newly expanding sixth form at Bodiam. But the Trust was still employing a staff of 34 to maintain its hosting programme – the equivalent of 24 full-time posts – and that was simply uneconomic.

The Trust will retain a head count of six employees – the equivalent of four full-time – to continue a pared-down programme of fund-raising and maintenance of communications with alumni. Ms Walton is hoping that they will relocate to a small office locally, possibly in Hastings, though she will not be one of them. The rest of the staff will be made redundant.

Celebrating Holi at Pestalozzi

There must be reasonable prospects, however, for many of the estate staff to find equivalent jobs with the incoming enterprise. PGL Travel, whose name is taken from the initials of its founder Peter Gordon Lawrence – but allows the acronym to be used less reverently to communicate its ethos of ‘Parents Get Lost!’ –  looks a perfect fit for the location and its facilities, both indoor and outdoor. Its CEO John Firth has issued a press release commenting: “PGL takes great pride in delivering inspirational learning through adventure, and we are looking forward to doing just that here in the heart of the High Weald AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).” He added: “PGL knows Pestalozzi very well, having run adventure courses in the village for a number of years, so when the opportunity to buy the estate came up we were very excited at the prospect.” 

Ms Walton, who worked for over 20 years as an investment banker specialising in aviation finance before moving into the charity sector, reckons that the aims of the trust can be retained in its revised form. But she is sad to leave. Looking out on the Sedlescombe estate of mature trees, rolling green pastures and scampering rabbits, she says: “It has been one of the nicest places I’ve ever worked. Harder work than being a banker, but more fun and much more rewarding.” 

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