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News > Alumni News > 'The love of Dame Allan's has been passed down through generations'

'The love of Dame Allan's has been passed down through generations'

7 Feb 2023
Alumni News
Dave and Sue Stewart with their daughter Helen and her three children Abigail, Joseph and Samuel
Dave and Sue Stewart with their daughter Helen and her three children Abigail, Joseph and Samuel

Allanians Dave and Sue Stewart met at a school dance 55 years ago this month and have remained stalwarts of Dame Allan’s Schools ever since. Here, they share their family story that spans across four generations. 

In the swinging sixties, the Valentine’s Ball became one of the most highly anticipated social events in the schools’ calendar. 

At a time when senior girls and boys at Dame Allan’s were educated wholly independent from one another through to the age of 18, the annual school dance gave a rare (and exciting) opportunity for Sixth Form students to mix and mingle. 

For then-teenagers Dave Stewart and Sue Coulthard, the Valentine’s Ball of 1968 will be forever etched in their memories. It marked the start of a lifelong love story and a deeply entwined relationship with Dame Allan’s Schools that now spans across generations. 

“It was so different back in the 60s; there was no mixing of boys and girls at all, there was an imaginary line we couldn’t cross!” laughs Dave, now 72. “The girls finished school 30 minutes before the boys, and, if we were lucky, we could steal glances through the window as they left. Sometimes they would sit at the side of the field as we played sport, which would make us all work a bit harder.

“We all looked forward to the Valentine’s Ball because it was a chance to socialise together and dance. Sue caught my eye straight away and the rest, as they say, is history.” 

 

Their history is special, and their ties with Dame Allan’s strong. 

Dave and Sue remained in Newcastle while he trained to become a dentist and she carved a career in teaching. They married in the summer of 1973 and their three children, Claire, Helen, and Mark, now all in their 40s, were pupils at the schools throughout the late 1980s and 90s. Today, as the couple approach their golden wedding anniversary, three of their grandchildren attend the schools. 

Their steadfast relationship with Dame Allan’s goes beyond that of pupil and parent. 

In 1988, just 12 months after their oldest daughter, Claire, became a pupil, Sue took a part time job as a teacher of Domestic Science. Over time, she increased her hours and her role evolved. She stayed at Dame Allan’s for 22 years until her retirement in 2010.

She says: “From the moment I returned to the school as a teacher - alongside teachers who had taught me - I rediscovered the warmth and friendly embrace that DAS gave me as a pupil.

“Over the years, Domestic Science evolved into Home Economics, and I was able to offer the subject to the boys too, firstly as an extra-curricular club then as a subject on the curriculum. I enjoyed many happy years in my teaching across both schools.”

Sue wasn’t the first Stewart to teach at the schools. Between 1946 – 1947, Dave’s father Arthur Stewart completed his teaching practice at Dame Allan’s, working alongside Doug Turnbull and Geordie Bulmer, before leaving to be a maths teacher at Newcastle Polytechnic, now Northumbria University. 

 

In 2009, Sue’s daughter Helen Dresser, nee Stewart, followed in her mother’s footsteps when she too returned to the school, some 12 years after sitting her A Levels, to take a teaching job. “It was a temporary two-year post to teach PE… but I’ve never left!” laughs Helen. “That’s the lovely thing about Dame Allan’s, it’s like family in every sense of the word. 

“When I returned, I was appointed by my former PE teacher Sandra Rickaby. Back then, there were a lot of teachers still here who had taught me in the 90s, including my own mum. Today there are seven.”  

Helen is now Head of Academic PE and the teacher in charge of girls’ athletics and cross country. In September, she became Head of Aidan and Plummer House – Plummer being the house her father Dave was in when at school.

She adds: “A lot has changed since I was a schoolgirl, most notably the fabric of the building and the creation of a separate Junior School, but what hasn’t changed is the warm and friendly atmosphere I remember back when I started in 1989. There’s a real sense of community here, it’s the reason so many families come back generation after generation.” 

There are a growing number of second and third generation families at Dame Allan’s, and nine members of staff who were once pupils. 

“There’s a strong family ethos at Dame Allan’s and a reassuring sense of belonging,” says Helen. “I love that my parents met at school; there’s something very romantic about the fact they fell in love at 17 and are still together all these years later. It certainly makes Dame Allan’s that bit more special in my heart.”

Helen and husband Chris‘s three children Abigail, 16, Joseph, 14, and Samuel, 10, now attend the schools. 

Helen shares: “They often talk to their grandma and grandpa about their school days back in the 60s, and to me and my siblings about our experience in the 90s. We all loved our years at DAS and thrived. The love of Dame Allan’s has been passed down through generations!” 

A love of school sport has also passed down through the generations. 

Last summer, Abigail, Year 11, was part of a senior girls’ athletics team that competed in the ESAA national Track and Field Cup Final in Oxfordshire. Her achievements echoed those of her grandfather, who qualified for the English Schools Athletics Finals each year from 1965 through to 1968. “I played a lot of sport at school, particularly rugby, and I ran for Northumberland,” says Dave. 

Similarly, Helen was heavily involved in sport in the 90s, representing the school at hockey, netball, gymnastics, swimming, and athletics. She gained junior colours in all five sports and, like her daughter more recently, senior colours in hockey, netball, and athletics. In the Sixth Form she was appointed Games Captain.

Helen says: “The strength of sport here, and the breadth of opportunities, allows my own children – and the pupils I teach – to thrive outside the classroom and develop a love of sport, wellbeing, and fitness that will serve them well in life beyond school. 

“I get so much satisfaction from my work here, watching pupils grow and excel in different areas, not just sport but in all aspects of school life. When you’re a pupil, you don’t appreciate just how defining your school days are. Now that I’m a parent and a teacher, I can see the value of the holistic approach taken at Dame Allan’s to take the focus beyond the academic and develop each and every pupil to become the best versions of themselves.”

It was this deep sense of appreciation that saw Sue and Dave become heavily involved with the parents’ association when their own children were at Dame Allan’s. They remained on the DASPA committee for 12 years, with Dave taking the role of chair in the early 90s.  

Dave was also a parent governor for six years, President of the defunct Old Boys Association, and Vice President of the Allanian Society. He was also involved with the Dame Allan’s Development Trust for around 20 years. 

Sue says: “My involvement at Dame Allan’s went way beyond the classroom; I fully immersed myself into school life as an Allanian and as a parent - I even organised the annual Valentine’s Ball where Dave and I first met! They were happy days at Dame Allan’s, as a pupil, a teacher, and a parent.”

Dave adds: “We have invested a lot of our time and energy into Dame Allan’s because of the significant role the schools have played in our lives over the years. Put simply, the school brings out the absolute best in you and turns out nicely rounded individuals… and that’s true across all generations.

“Being an Allanian has been a life-long experience; I can’t imagine a day when we are not part of the school in one way, shape or form.” 

 

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