Updated: Jun 10, 2021
By Amarr Wright, Community Engagement Coordinator
Easter recently marked a time of renewal for many; for others, it marked a time for family, and for others a time for chocolate. For members of Grinling Gibbons and Lucas Vale schools in Deptford, it marked a chance for these schools to be reborn under the leadership of the newly appointed Executive Head, Mr. Mickey Kelly. With a new sense of hope and renewed resilience, and under the rays of the beaming sun, these schools held their Phoenix Federation’s Festival.
I was invited to the festival last week, which combined these two schools, as a representative of the Moonshot Centre in New Cross, whose founder, Sybil Phoenix, the federation was named after. The values they hold include a commitment to aspiration, bravery, courage, determination, and enlightenment - values that each pupil strives to embody.
Standing outside in the sunshine alongside proud teachers and other guests, I watched the primary schools perform a programme that celebrated many of the diverse cultures present across the communities of New Cross. The day started with the Year 6s performing “Let it be” on the steel pans. Artistic Director and CEO, Beverley Glean MBE, said of the performance: “what a perfect opening, if ever there was a symbol of optimism and resilience; The steel pan represents that, reflecting a real sense of togetherness and beauty out of adversity.” Following this, the Year 5s performed a piece to traditional West African drums played by Nii Boye and Zozo (from IRIE! dance theatre), who run weekly classes at Grinling Gibbons schools.
I was profoundly moved by the powerful poetry that was shared by three of the Year 6 students about what the Lewisham Pledge to Embed Race Equality means to them; the insight and clarity of these young students was impressive. More amazing dances from both schools, including a beautiful dance to “Leja Leja” by three Year 6 students, and some choral singing (one of which being an original piece by Grinling Gibbons teacher Ms Bryce) followed these poems. Then, the festival was drawn to a close with a beautiful rendition of “Lean on Me” on the steel pans. Finally, both schools performed the perfectly choreographed Jerusalema dance together.
Other highlights included speeches from the three Mayoresses of Lewisham, the Director of Education in Lewisham, as well as Governors and representatives from the local Christian and Islamic communities, and a moving speech from executive headteacher Mickey Kelly who paid tribute to Sybil Phoenix, and said that that “dark winter of covid that we thought would never pass, has and is fading before the Spring. The Phoenix flies above us to remind us that we are not chained to the past but are masters of our future.”
He went on to say that Sybil Phoenix’s life was one “of service, and a life of dedication to all of the peoples of Lewisham. Her work, her love resonates in the lives of many people and I want our children to know and look to that example of a life well led. She laughed and cried and fought for all people, but she cherished her own people – the Caribbean men, women and children with whom she shared so much. We carry this name Phoenix with pride.”
The event marked the welcome return of spring, which was ushered in by the uplifting artistic display of these young people. Watching the school communities pull together with such joy and spirit was a testament to the hard work of each pupil, teacher, and supporter of the school. It was an honour to be invited to watch this powerful and uplifting artistic display, especially in the bright beginning of spring.
This festival was truly an example of how, despite the difficulties and challenges that each of us have faced over this past year, we are still able to transcend these hardships when we pull together with hope and friendship.
The Moonshot Centre, home to IRIE! dance theatre and its projects, seeks to continue Sybil Phoenix’s legacy, alongside many partners and collaborators, including the Phoenix Federation. This phoenix, after a long period of uncertainty, has truly risen from the ashes, and I’m excited to watch it continue to soar at the carnival that the federation is hosting this summer in partnership with IRIE! dance theatre.