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Cothill House School – the ideal venue for young learners.

14th March 2019

Camp atmosphere

It’s 8.55am on a quiet summers day in July 2018 and I’m stood next to our Tipi in the middle of the Varsity Cothill House campus. The weather is already warm, I’m enjoying listening to the birds singing and I’m reading what is on the timetable for today. It’s peaceful and I take a moment to appreciate what a lovely place this is to be…..but then…..the quiet is broken as a hundred or so children come thundering out of the hall and begin to disperse across the site to their first lesson or activity. Although I am no longer alone and can no longer hear the birds, I continue to appreciate how ideal this is as a venue for young learners and take the decision that this is where my daughters will come to camp once they are old enough (still a few years to go!).

So why do I think so much of Cothill House as a language camp venue? 

The venue is situated in a small village about a 10-minute drive outside of Oxford. I think for young learners, being in the heart of the city is less important because they are not old enough to leave the campus and head off into the city on their own. Of course, we run trips into Oxford so children can soak up the atmosphere and see the sights, however the ability for them to walk out the gate and be in the city centre is less important than for an older learner of 16+. Being out of the city gives the venue a sense of security that is important for young learners, especially if they are away for the first time and possibly nervous of a big city.

Loads of grass space, tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool, art rooms and modern classrooms give us the space to fill 12 hours a day with learning, fun and activity. In my years of running camps for children, I’ve operated from over 100 different school venues, tailoring the programme each time depending on the limitations of the site – inner city venues with little or no grass, art sessions in normal classrooms with dust sheets to protect the carpet etc etc. Cothill House however has none of that. As a venue it is flexible enough to allow us to offer 40+ activities without compromise. Teaching classrooms are comfortable and light, looking out onto the fields and providing an environment that is perfect for learning and improving, art rooms are purpose built for art and there is enough field space for 10 groups to do 10 different activities without coming close to each other.

The food is provided by an in-house catering team who work tirelessly for the 6 weeks to ensure students and staff are well fed. Nothing is ever too much trouble and their attention to detail is quite amazing, ensuring all dietary requirements are covered. 

All the accommodation is in dormitories with each room housing 4 to 6 students. Again, I’ve operated residential camps from schools with individual rooms and I prefer the dormitories. Think back to when you were a child, staying in a room with some new friends for a few weeks was great fun! Cothill Main House has a very traditional feel and comes with a lot of history having opened in 1870! There are boards in the dining hall with the names of the boys who have stayed at the school – these don’t quite stretch back to 1870 however they are a constant reminder of the hundreds of children who have enjoyed Cothill and called it home. Cothill New House, as the name suggests, is new this year having opened in January 2019. Following the same room layout as the main house, each dormitory has 4 to 6 beds and shared bathroom facilities. Cothill New House is just across the field from the main building and a short drive away is Chandlings Boarding House which again has a dormitory style of accommodation. We had a small group of older girls stay at Chandlings last year and they had a brilliant time, treating it as their exclusive retreat from the main site each night.  

Back to me standing by the Tipi…

As I continued to stand there, I really got the feel that students are comfortable at Cothill. I thought about why this is the case and glancing again at the timetable in my hand, I came to conclusion that it is because we pack a lot into each day. I thought back to the many conversations we had at Head Office during the planning of the programmes and decided that our mix of lessons, activities and social time allows children to relax, get into routine and enjoy their time – offering the right balance of opportunity and familiarity. We give them very little time to be bored or to worry about things like missing home and maximum amounts of time to learn, have fun and integrate with our British buddies. 

In the bigger scheme of things, children are with us for a relatively short period and as I stand there watching the staff team working hard to ensure children find their way to their first session, I see children with smiles on their faces making the most of their experience.

So, if you get the chance to come to the UK in July or August 2019 come and see us at Cothill House and find out for yourself what Varsity is all about – or send a child to do it for you! I will be the person stood next to the Tipi, enjoying the camp atmosphere, trying to hear the birds singing.

Written by: Mark Vingoe, MD