Irmina Corder was one of the first children to come to Pestalozzi in 1960 and on Saturday she was one of the last to leave as she met up once again with the childhood friends who helped shape her life.
So the bell has tolled for the last time on the magnificent estate that was for many years the Pestalozzi Children’s Village bought in 1957 by Dr Henry Alexander and Mary Buchanan with the help of many wealthy entrepreneurs and investors.
The village was set up as a Trust and its purpose was to recruit children living in refugee camps in Germany, casualties of the Second World War, and provide them with a decent home and education.
Paradise – the imposing manor house that became home.
The parents of all these children had found themselves displaced from their homeland during the war. They were all refugees for one reason or another. My own father was Polish and had been incarcerated in Dachau during the war. When the Americans liberated the concentration camps my father weighed just five stone and had to stay in a sanatorium for two years.
None of our parents were able to return to their own countries and thus ended up living in German refugee camps, where we, the second generation were born.
So Pestalozzi was set up to help as many of these children as was possible and I was one of the lucky recruits!
We ranged in ages from nine to 13; boys and girls; Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Armenians and Turks, all chosen by Dr Alexander to start a new life in England.
I have to emphasise that we were all stateless citizens with our nationalities based on our parents. None of us had passports, just travel documents that enabled us to cross borders with visas.
Getting together at Pestalozzi for the final time on Saturday.
The first children arrived in 1959 closely followed by many more in 1960 and in 1963 the first Tibetans who had escaped over the Himalayas from the occupation of the Chinese.
In the 60s Pestalozzi was a very big deal in England. We had visits from the Dalai Llama, ITV, the BBC, we were filmed for TV and we welcomed hundreds of visitors to the village.
We were in paradise – none of us had ever seen such a magnificent estate with an imposing manor house, where we all had rooms. Our lives went from poverty and racism to abundance, acceptance and integration.
Life in Sedlescombe was idyllic. We all learnt English in a flash and went to Claverham School in Battle, where many Pestalozzi Children excelled at sport and went on to become Sussex Champions.
Th early days – with hope in their hearts.
By 1968 we Europeans had all grown up and left and the Pestalozzi Children’s Village took a different direction, taking in children from some of the poorest communities in the world.
On Saturday 150 of us came together to bid farewell to this magnificent estate, which was our home for just eight years but shaped our lives forever.
On Saturday we talked, we cried, we laughed and reminisced about our wonderful childhood and we left our hearts in that wonderful land we had called home.
On the positive side the estate has been sold to PGL, so there will once more be children roaming through it’s idyllic land.
The British Pestalozzi Children’s Village Association was founded in 1947 by Dr Henry Alexander – a German, Jewish refugee, who moved to UK before the Second World War – and Mrs Mary Buchanan – a British sociologist.
They had been inspired by the successful efforts of Dr Walter Robert Corti, a Swiss philosopher and a group of his associates who had created a Pestalozzi Children’s Village in Trogen in Appenzell in the north of Switzerland. This community was initially to accommodate European children orphaned as a result of WW2. Children were housed in small national groups where they were educated in their own languages and cultures.
The plan was based on the theories of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, the 18th/19th century Swiss humanitarian, pedagogue and educational reformer – his philosophy being summarised as ‘Learning by head, hand and heart.
In 1957, the British group bought the 170 acre site in Sedlescombe. Dr Alexander and Mrs Buchanan had gathered an impressive group of educators, academics, philanthropists, clergy, business people, nobility and other ‘movers and shakers’ to come onto the Trust Council. Simultaneously, they promoted their cause publicly to the British people.
But at the start of the year the charity reached the difficult decision to sell off the 138 acre site. At the time Pestalozzi Chief Executive Sue Walton said it was no longer financially viable to run the estate.
Although now gone from Sedlescombe Pestalozzi will continue to offer scholarships through United World Colleges, which aims to ‘deliver a challenging and transformational educational experience to a deliberately diverse group of young people, inspiring them to become agents of positive change’.
Sue said: “We know this is absolutely the right way forward for us because UWC teaches the International Baccalaureate Diploma which fits perfectly with the Pestalozzi philosophy of and education for the ‘head, heart and hands’.”
She added: “We cannot do that here. We have fixed overheads and commitments.”
- Read Irmina’s memories of Hastings in the 1960s by following the link below