Monica Louie Sims OBE (27 October 1925 – 20 November 2018)
In the summer of 1943 Monica Sims graduated from Denmark Road High School. As the tide of World War II was finally beginning to turn, she took her place at St Hugh’s College in Oxford University to read English.
At Denmark Road High School we are inspiring students to challenge the patriarchy and bring about change. The future leaders who will be graduating this upcoming summer are driven and are fearless. They are following in the footsteps of Monica Sims some 77 years earlier.
Monica joined the male-dominated BBC in 1953 working as a radio producer before taking her first major role as editor of Woman’s Hour in 1964. Benefiting from her male bosses opting not listen to the show, she used this unexpected freedom and personal drive to promote “health, mental or social problems, religious doubts, financial difficulties, sexual orientation and childcare, all suggested by listeners’ letters” challenging the broadcasting taboos of the day.
Monica rose to become the most senior woman in the corporation in the 1980s. As head of children’s television she fought hard for the right of children to have “the best possible service”. She introduced groundbreaking shows including Newsround, The Wombles and Grange Hill. She finished her career at the BBC as controller of her beloved Radio 4.
Denmark Road High School has reshaped its curriculum to blend oracy with academia. Monica was noted for her ability to quickly get the making of a person and to win an argument. She did not suffer fools. She stood up for her beliefs even if they were unpopular or ahead of her time. She infamously turned down the opportunity to commission the popular Sesame Street show alluding to its apparent aim “to change children’s behaviour”. Her support for drama against the rising tide of rolling news programming was never more apparent than her refusal to break into the broadcast of a Radio 4 play to announce the end of the Falklands War.
After her retirement from the BBC she was commissioned to write a report on the shortage of women in management. Her findings included the need for flexible working hours for women with children, the introduction of part-time working and parental leave for fathers. The latter was the only one of her eighteen suggestions not accepted at that time. 21st century Denmark Road students are living up to Monica’s legacy; students ready to go into the world to respect people, understand people and be the voice of the people.
Monica passed away in November 2018 at the age of 93. She was a proud Gloucester-born Denmark Road alum. She spoke fondly of her time at Denmark Road. Specifically she recalled a talk she witnessed from an elderly suffragette who addressed the senior girls. This talk took place in our wonderful school hall some 80 years ago. It was the first time Monica was to realise the potential of women to make a positive difference in the world beyond their traditional gender based roles. I am immensely humbled to let you know that Monica left £20,000 to the school’s Help Us Grow fundraising campaign and a further £20,000 donation to the school’s PTA association.
With this legacy gift, the Help Us Grow campaign has now raised £63,000. This money has already enabled us to improve the Denmark experience for our students. £3000 of donations have contributed to the purchase of the Satchel One (Show My Homework) app. £11,000 has been used to support our young people with the provision of a qualified counsellor. £8000 has been spent to improve curriculum provision, funding the choice of two languages from Year 7 and providing new textbooks in Sociology. Further donations from the PTA to the campaign have funded the creation of the Sixth Form Café and furniture for the outstanding new independent and group study rooms. Most recently, we have used donations to support our LRC with funding for World Book Day events and the purchase of books for the Carnegie Challenge.
Reaching our fundraising target of £125,000 will allow us to continue to offer the Denmark Road Difference that has made us the Sunday Times Southwest State Secondary School of the Year and more. We are proud to be DenmarkRoad365 and your donations will support this. Our IT facilities urgently require updating. The laptops your daughters and sons use in Science, Languages and DT are now ten years old and are no longer fit for purpose. Replacing these 90 laptops will cost £54,000. Would you be willing to fund one of those laptops for our students to use?
Our achievements in the Arts are a defining feature of Denmark Road life. The recent musical production of Singing in the Rain was a fantastic showcase of student talent. However, once again we spent thousands hiring equipment. If we did have our own it would mean improved performance quality at all events: our talented musicians, dancers, singers and actors deserve this. We need £30,000 to develop staging, lighting, sound. This would also be used by our existing Drama GCSE students and our future A Level Theatre Studies cohort beginning in September 2021.
There are three days to go until International Woman’s Day. A call for action for an equal world. This Sunday, I will be thinking of Monica Sims. An astonishing woman who overcame gender bias to achieve remarkable things.
I am proud her legacy will make a fantastic impact on our current and future students. I am proud that she has forged pathways for our students to follow. I am proud that she is Denmark Road.
Hannah Saunders (Pike)
In October 2016 Hannah featured in one of our Alumni newsletters. This is what she wrote then:
Hannah Saunders (nee Pike) studied at the High School from 1997 to 2004. She is just completing her career in the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant. Hannah told us a bit about what she has been up to since leaving school.
“I left the HSFG in 2004 and headed straight to Loughborough to study geography, inspired by Mrs Banwell! I graduated and disappeared off to America for a year of work and travel, as a nanny and a gymnastics coach—this included a summer with Camp America.
Being obsessed with sport and keen for adventure, I then joined the RAF. This led me to RAF College at Cranwell, with 9 months of officer training involving hard fitness, running around in the wilderness with a rifle and air power and leadership studies – all of which was punctuated with very little sleep.
I graduated from Cranwell in 2009, and since then life has been an adventure - lots of travel and plenty of challenges. Remaining a sports obsessive, the highlights for me have been learning to ski,
windsurf, sail dinghies and yachts, climb, mountain bike and winter mountaineer.
I’m finishing my regular time in the RAF in the headquarters, where the challenges are very different - managing budgets, senior officers’ expectations and ministerial questions.
I remain fond of the RAF and would highly recommend it. It has given me a Masters, a family (I met my husband in the RAF, and we now have a little boy), and it gave me the opportunity to put myself in positions that have pushed me further than I ever thought. I remember an exercise on top of a remote mountain, in a complete white out - there was snow up to our thighs and we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. We were hopelessly lost without any visible navigational features and to top it off we’d run out of water (we’d been away from our water source for 14 hours, so had to eat snow to hydrate).
For added excitement, according to our map, there was a huge ravine an unknown number of meters to our left! As light faded my friend Andy fell suddenly out of sight - off the ravine we all thought! Luckily he had only fallen 12ft and mildly sprained his ankle.
I’m now looking forward to my next adventure – running my own business.”
And this is what Hannah is up to now, in 2020:
Start Up Loans - Training. An XFE beneficiary, and former RAF officer, has won a ‘Dragons Den’ style competition to secure the top investment of £50,000 for their children’s skincare business.
"I joined HSFG in 2004 at the young age of 10 years old; having sat the 11+ a year early. I can remember how nervous I was on my first day as I was both the youngest and shortest in the whole school! These nerves soon went when I met the rest of the new students; all swamped by their blazers. I will always remember the Year 7 bonding trip being excellent fun but this was when I realised kayaking was definitely not for me!
Throughout the first 5 years at HSFG I was lucky enough to study a variety of subjects. History with Mr Hathaway will always remain a favourite; having being taught by Mr Hathaway from Year 7 – Year 13 I went on to study History as part of my degree. Lessons were always fun and enjoyable and even though I struggled with some parts of the writing elements, with the support given I was able to achieve the grade needed for University.
HSFG always felt like a family during my time there; everyone was so friendly and I would always go to school feeling safe. I decided in Year 11 that I would like to continue to stay at HSFG for Sixth Form. I certainly enjoyed these final two years especially as we were given more independence and the help and support for us to achieve the relevant qualifications needed for our future studies. Not only this but I realised I had made friends for life at HSFG.
In Sixth Form I studied Business Studies, History, and Psychology; achieving A, B , B respectively. These grades enabled to me to go to my first choice Reading University. Here, I was able to achieve a 2:1 degree in History and Economics.
Following University I started my Accountancy qualifications and having worked in a variety of different finance roles I came across an advert for a Finance Manager at Denmark Road High School. I took the decision to apply as I already knew what a great place the school was. I am now in my 7th month working here and I am thoroughly enjoying it!