Bill and Alana Cuthbertson have devoted the last sixteen years to Seaford College, taking on a variety of different roles at the school. Well-loved Heden Court Houseparent Alana retired at the end of the Summer Term and before she left we spoke to her and Bill about the sixteen years they have dedicated to the school.
How did you become houseparents at Seaford College?
Bill: I hadn’t even thought about being a houseparent. I came here doing rugby coaching, doing three to four different jobs, but I wanted to settle down. I was asked if I wanted the houseparent role and I said ‘houseparent, you must be joking!’ I’d been a parent before, but never a houseparent. But I took the job, and I’ve never looked back. Alana was my assistant, and then I became hers!
Alana you have helped to organise Open Mornings in the past, what other roles have you held?
Alana: Before Seaford I was a florist, I really enjoyed it and I had my own business. When I came here I decided not to tell anyone I was a florist, but then the first Burns Supper came along and from then on I did Seaford’s flowers. I could really go to town! Now my son’s a florist and he’s been doing the flowers for the school. It’s something I might come back to when I retire. I’ve also worked in the Hollington Centre with the Sixth Form, and I got on so well with them that I was asked to come to Heden Court as housemistress.
You’ve organised the Burns Suppers for nearly sixteen years, how did they come about? What have you enjoyed about them?
Bill: When we started, no one knew what a Burns Supper was. It began as a House Dinner for Heden parents and pupils, because we wanted to introduce pupils to etiquette, so they could learn table manners, and that was more important than the supper itself. It became incredibly popular and it was rolled out to the whole school. We’ve been complimented on the entertainment; people ask how we do it every year. We’ve had drummers in the dark, harpists, barber singers, quite a selection. We always get the school choir involved too. It’s so popular now that we had two evenings for the first time ever this year.
Alana: Both nights were unbelievable! We get the haggis posted down from Edinburgh, and we have parents who just want haggis for their main course. I like discussing the menu with the chef, and for a couple of years I made tablet, ginger wine and hot toddies for the supper.
The Burns Suppers have raised a considerable amount of money for charity in the past. Which charities have been helped?
Alana: We have given to all sorts of charities: the Surrey Air Ambulances, the Petworth Cottage Hospital, and Keith Woodcock’s [former Seaford teacher] charity that takes 30 disabled children away on holiday. People don’t realise how much money these charities need. From the money Burns Nights have raised we’ve also bought china for the school, a handmade lectern for the Assembly Hall, a scoreboard and a big candle holder for the church.
What are your favourite memories of Heden Court?
Alana: The last three Christmases we’ve asked the girls what they wanted to do. Last year, they chose a Chinese theme. We got chopsticks, and you should have seen the size of the order! Billy dressed up as Santa and everybody gave out presents, I was really choked. Then we had Chinese lanterns and the girls wrote some lovely notes and watched as they went up into the air.
Do you keep in touch with former pupils who have boarded at Heden?
Alana: We do keep in touch with quite a few of them. They send us emails and one of the girls from 14 years ago invited us to her wedding, and to her two-year-old’s birthday party. We get a lot of Christmas cards from them. The girls who are just about to leave are like family, we’ll definitely keep in touch, and we might visit them in their own countries.
Bill: When you get a letter, or phonecall, it’s amazing, you just don’t expect it. We had a great group 12 years ago, one of them invited us along to his 30th birthday party to be the special surprise guests.
Alana, what do you plan to do when you have retired?
Alana: We’re going to live outside of Basingstoke in a nice little bungalow. One of our son’s flower shops is a ten minute walk away and it would be great to work there and get back into it. Bill said he would be happy to drive the van and deliver the flowers!