Lower Fifth: Day at Saint Omer
Date: Thursday 27 May 2010
L5 Visit to Saint Omer – 26 May 2010
Despite a delayed departure from school, the group of 41 pupils and 4 teachers arrived at the Channel Tunnel in time to take an earlier than scheduled shuttle. Mlle Thelliez, her organisation impeccable as ever, provided a welcome and copious continental breakfast for pupils and staff at the rear of the bus during the journey to France.
Our early arrival at our link school, La Malassise, caught our hosts unprepared but the pupils managed to amuse themselves in the car park until M. Belhoste and his team of guides from the school’s 4e (“Section européenne”) arrived to welcome us and take us in pairs and small groups on a tour of their school. We were suitably impressed by the newly refurbished chapel, which now doubles as a conference and performance hall with comfortable tiered seating and fold-down writing surfaces. Other surprises included the widespread use of blackboards and chalk, often alongside more modern technology, the quietness of classrooms, and the natural science department’s wide collection of live reptiles, rodents and arachnids, which are looked after by pupils. A viewing of the Technology department was undoubtedly the highlight of the visit for SRL who was staggered by the impressive range and sophistication of the equipment available. The visit ended with lunch in “le self,” the school’s bright modern canteen, where most pupils chose the roast (“hairy”) chicken option while staff were entertained in the informal staff dining room with a choice of guinea-fowl or calf’s liver.
On leaving La Malassise we drove to the centre of Saint Omer where an hour and a half was spent exploring the commercial centre and buying snacks and refreshments in the local cafés and pâtisseries. Unfortunately this was still not long enough for two young ladies who consequently had to make the journey to Arques in the back of a taxi accompanied by DFM and TJB, in order to rejoin the group at the ARC International factory.
The ARC factory, we learned, currently employs 7,000 workers in a town of 9,000 inhabitants and produces 6 million items a day, using 1,000 tons of sand in the process. The factory is the size of 220 football pitches and consumes as much electricity as 300,000 private consumers (equivalent to the population of Strasbourg). Our fascinating visit included an introductory film and talk followed by a guided tour of the works with an explanation of the various stages in the manufacturing process. Everyone left with a complimentary gift in the form of a glass trinket box.
To the disappointment of most pupils, a slightly delayed departure from Arques left too little time for the planned visit to Cité Europe, but they cheerfully made the most of the more limited facilities of the Eurotunnel terminal before we returned to England.
A huge thank you from all of us to Mlle Thelliez for her enormous efforts as organiser, interpreter, caterer, etc. to ensure the success of another of her very interesting and enjoyable trips. We are fortunate indeed to benefit from her enthusiasm and willingness to provide us with such opportunities to experience France.