Clayesmore welcomes new Houseparents, Mr.Palacios & family to Gate House

We are delighted to welcome Sam Palacios to Clayesmore in his new role as House Parent of Gate.  Mr Palacios, wife Tessa and sons, Luca and Rio arrived in late March from St Lawrence College in Kent; where he had been a House Parent and Head of Academic Music.

As a musician at University, he specialised  in vocal music and performed a great deal as a tenor. He is also a keen linguist and speaks Spanish to a good standard; he also has a good understanding of French.

He is passionate about providing a high level of pastoral care and enjoys the boarding environment very much.  He is excited to meet and work with all of the students, staff and parents of Gate over the coming years.

Mr Palacios shares his family’s experience of their arrival to Clayesmore during lock down!

On the 24th March 2020, my family and I arrived at Clayesmore school to start a new job as Houseparents of Gate in this wonderful and animated new setting. We have now been living in the Housemaster’s accommodation in Gate for a month and we are feeling very settled and comfortable in our new surroundings.

The move from Ramsgate was not without its own challenges. A removal company had loaded two large trucks full of our belongings – not an easy feat considering we lived four storeys up without the luxury of a lift (something which definitely kept us fit over the preceding few years).

We sat having our dinner with what little crockery we had left, ready to move the next morning, only to hear Boris Johnson announce the new Covid 19 lockdown measures including the one restricting movement for all but ‘essential’ travel.

This was obviously a very nerve-racking time but my stress and anxiety cooled by the reassuring and tranquil words of Mark Newland on the phone after which the move went ahead as planned.

He went out of his way to make sure we, as a family, were as settled as possible for which myself and my wife, Tessa, are both very grateful. He and Sarah-Jane also somehow vacated the Gate accommodation at lightning speed so that we could move in ahead of schedule.

We arrived in the beautiful Dorset countryside at 11am the following day and the trucks were gradually unloaded, although sadly we couldn’t quite stretch to bringing matron with us as our sons had requested! Luca (4) and Rio (18 months) were incredibly excited to see a luscious green garden for them to play in (something that we had not really had easy access to before).

A woodpecker poked away at a tree overlooking our new home and ducks and other interesting birds flew overhead as the boxes arrived, only adding to our idyllic first impressions of the grounds.

Within minutes of arriving, I received a call from Jo Thomson to officially welcome us to the school and offer food and other essential items. It was reassuring to know people were nearby and willing to help despite the social difficulties imposed by the lockdown.

A few nights later, the resident staff organised some virtual welcome drinks for us which was great fun. This sense of community is something which has continued to strike a chord as we have settled in.

One of our first acts after the trucks left was a ‘pyjama walk’ around the grounds. Rio was keen to point out the ducks and swans on the lake as we trudged around the woodlands.

Luca insisted on finding the biggest stick to carry whilst pretending to be Gandalf or some other such wizard, waving it around in a whimsical fashion. Whilst walking, my phone was inundated with welcome messages and invitations to Clayesmore residents’ WhatsApp groups. We bumped into the Mareau-Jones family near the lake and had a pleasant chat with them (whilst keeping a safe distance!)

As we headed home and put the boys to bed, we were able to reflect and celebrate with some well-earned prosecco. We knew we had arrived somewhere incredibly special and were likely to be here for many happy years. There was so much to explore, so many people to build long-lasting friendships with and so many Gate boys and parents to meet too!

During the following weeks, we explored the grounds thoroughly and crossed paths with various other resident families on our walks. We were constantly struck by how warm and welcoming everybody was.

Whilst putting up some pictures one day and admiring the countryside view from our new living room window, it struck me how close Hambledon hill was. I wanted to find a way to take the boys there but I did not know if it was close enough to get to on foot with two tiny children.

I decided to go for a run in order to investigate further. I am quite a keen runner, but I have to admit to being a little naïve and underprepared for running up quite so many hills. Back in Kent, where I grew up, the land is very flat.

It quickly became apparent that I have some work to do. After running for half an hour or so, I came to a grinding halt when I realised to my horror that the hill seemed further away than when I started!

However, I certainly wasn’t short of woodland friends; three deer jumped over a bush in front of me and skipped off into the distance, whilst a hare leaped out and paused to look at me as if to say ‘what are you doing here?’ before hopping out of sight. It is safe to say that the summit of Hambledon hill (when I eventually reached it) boasts one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen and we are blessed to have it nearby.

All of these beautiful excursions were taking place in-between my training and preparation meetings with senior staff including Mark Newland and Mary Bailey.  I was so pleased and humbled by how willing they were to give up their holiday time to make sure I was as prepared as possible to start the job – particularly under such challenging circumstances.

In the final week of the Easter Holidays, Mark Newland and I began contacting all of the Gate boys on Google Meet in small groups so that I could begin getting to know them. It was great to chat to them informally about what we had all been up to and to make sure that they were looking after themselves and learning how to cope under such severe restrictions.

The boys were all eager to get back to school and missed all of the socialising and special friendships they share. I realised quickly that providing lessons and academic support would not be enough for them and that we needed to show a great deal of creativity in how we maintained and, dare-I-say, ‘grew’ that special sense of community within the house. We have some exciting house ideas which we will be launching this week including ‘The Gate British Bake Off’.

On Friday the 10th April, it was Luca’s fourth birthday which Tessa and I were a little worried about. We desperately didn’t want him to be disappointed that there would be no party and no family members visiting – particularly after reassuring him so much during the move that he would have new friends and other family members at Clayesmore whom he would have a lot of fun with. We arranged an online party in which we instructed all of our family members to dress as wizards and fairies (at Luca’s request). Several family members baked their own cakes for Luca and we sang to him before the four of us played party games like ‘pass the parcel’ and ‘musical statues’ in the Gate flat. It was a rather unique way of celebrating a little boy’s birthday but in many ways, it was special and one to remember.

During the final days of the holidays, we were advised by the Dorey family (Wolverton) to visit Meggy Moo’s which is a dairy farm located not far from the school. It was a hot April afternoon and we made our way through the cow farm to the self-service milk shop. The boys sat briefly in the sunshine and drank fresh chocolate milkshake whilst greeting the cows; what a wonderful thing to have so close to our home! I am sure we will be regular visitors.

We are now ready to start term time and are excited to continue getting to know all of the Clayesmore community and particularly the students, staff and parents of Gate. We consider ourselves extraordinarily fortunate to be living somewhere as lovely as Clayesmore during a very challenging time.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those who are not as fortunate as us and don’t have the luxuries of acres of stunning green lawns, woodlands and lakes to explore. We think of all of those who are bravely fighting this disease on the frontline – my own brother and his wife are both paramedics and the bravery and heroism they show on a daily basis is nothing short of inspiring. We clap every Thursday evening from the end of our little driveway for all of those willing to put others before themselves despite the risks.