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Uplands College celebrates its heritage

| March 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

Celebrating heritage in Uplands’ 85th birthday year
By Sue Kloeck

A number of themes are celebrated every term at Uplands Preparatory School.

As 2013 marked the 85th year of the school’s existence, ‘Heritage’ was chosen as a theme. One of the seven themes laid down by the Eco-schools Platinum Guidelines for the maintenance of one’s international flag status is ‘Community and Heritage’. Focusing on the importance of Uplands, the school, within the Lowveld community, the value and significance of its children, parents and grandparents and the environment are what make a school. We celebrate and take pride in a number of families who have attended Uplands for three generations. The Greathead, Kay, More, Calder/Haig and Macgregor families are duly worthy of acknowledgement.

Webster worthy of blue plaque

This year also marks the 90th year of one of the school’s buildings, Webster House. ‘Heritage’, as defined by UNESCO, is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass onto future generations. For those who attended Uplands from 1928, for today’s pupils, teachers and the community of White River as well as for future pupils, Webster House is presently and in the future very much part and parcel of Uplands’ heritage.

Webster House was designed by Patrick Eagle, a Public Works architect in Pretoria who worked alongside the renowned Sir Herbert Baker and this was likely to have influenced his design style. It was during this time that he was commissioned by Mr WA Webster to design his stately, double-storey home in White River. This building and property were sold to “Uplands” in 1945. The residence was superbly fitted with modern comforts, costly furniture and Burmese teak finishings. Professor Roger Fisher, an honoured heritage environmentalist and former head of the School of Architecture at the University of Pretoria, recently visited Uplands and was taken in by the charm of our flagstaff nonagenarian building, Webster House. For a building to be registered as a ‘heritage site’, it needs to be over 60 years old. Webster House certainly meets the age requirements, but Professor Fisher has advised the school to apply for a ‘Blue Plaque’ to commemorate it as a significant site. The Mpumalanga Historical Interest Group will be following the school’s application for the special plaque. James Ball, of the Heritage Portal, also showed a strong interest in the old building. There are photographs on Roger Fisher’s website under ‘What’s up’. Having a ‘Blue Plaque’ will mean that people can discover more about a site and its history. A blue plaque fosters a sense of pride and helps to educate communities about history and architecture and plays a role in preserving significant spaces and places for the future. The building is in excellent condition and is currently used by the administrative staff on the lower level while the upper section is occupied by girl boarders.

Celebrating national symbols

A love of one’s country goes hand in hand with the appreciation of the broader term ‘heritage’. In order to cement and foster this patriotism, it was decided that boards depicting the country’s national symbols would be created. These national symbols would unite national identity at the school. A few years ago a large South African flag was made at Uplands, re-using different coloured plastic bottle tops. This giant-sized flag was installed in the school’s audio-visual room, which is used from time to time by the whole school as well as for guest speakers and speech competitions.

Several delegates, who have attended the Lowveld Eco-schools Conference held at Uplands have expressed their delight and approval of the flag made of re-usable products. This flag was the starting point of the idea to create a heritage wall. The plan to create new boards depicting South Africa’s national symbols was executed and a massive drive to collect plastic tops was started. An estimated fifteen thousand tops were needed. Plastic tops were collected by families and friends of Uplands’ children from as far afield as Bloemfontein and Johannesburg! The bottle tops streamed into the collection point and the members of the school’s environmental club, GreenUPS, sorted them each week.

No boredom when it came to boards

The theme of Heritage enabled the subject of the boards, the five national symbols:
the national fish – galjoen, the national tree – yellowwood, the national animal – springbok, the national flower – protea and the national bird – blue crane. It was also decided to include a board of Table Mountain, one of the new seven Wonders of Nature. One of Mpumalanga’s most loved ‘Big 5’, the rhino, was also chosen, as the plight of the decreasing numbers of the species is of concern to all in the province.

The boards were designed by Uplands parents Rosemary Hall and Nicola Gilfillan, who is an accomplished artist and helped to draw the basic outlines of the symbols onto the boards. The challenge went out to staff and children as to who would like to become involved. Some teachers took it upon themselves to have the boards in their classrooms for children to work on in their spare time and small groups of children also assisted on their own. The involvement of the school’s pupils with this action-project was paramount and they have succeeded exceptionally well. Not only are the boards visually eye-catching, they make a statement, showing concern for the environment in a meaningful way.

The challenge

The initiative of re-using plastic tops in this meaningful way is something we would like to challenge other schools to try out. Uplands hopes that other communities will also re-use useful articles and improve our environment at the same time. The initiative to instil and foster pride in one’s school and one’s country was an important incentive.

Category: Autumn 2013

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