William Reddaway, Head of Lifelong Learning at Farncombe Estate Centre near Broadway, is retiring after 28 years working for companies on the estate – and a colourful career abroad.
William, 63, is one of the founders of the Farncombe Estate programme, which features an astonishing range of leisure and special interest courses every weekend.
“I have a belief that ongoing learning throughout your life is a good thing,” he says. “My father was a university historian. As a child, I remember my mother leaving me with a babysitter so she could drive him to his ‘extra-mural’ lectures. It’s something I grew up with.”
Skeletons in the cupboard
Like his father, William began as a historian at London University. Here he met his future wife Christine on the very first day. During a stint in Indonesia, William proposed to Christine by letter. The couple moved to the southern Sudan and were then posted to India.
William worked for 13 years with UNICEF on many government programmes to help women and children. He promoted education and nutrition, helped organise flood relief and also, for some reason, shipped a few human skeletons…
“I may be the only person for miles who has shipped skeletons around the world,” he reminisces. “In those days, most ‘skeleton stringers’ were based in Calcutta. As I was responsible for procurement and export, I found myself shipping out 100 skeletons to the UNICEF warehouse in Copenhagen.”
The decision to return to the UK was prompted by the birth of daughter Chloë in 1982 in New Delhi. “We didn’t want to live forever outside the UK and we didn’t want our baby to grow up without the involvement of her family,” says William.
The family returned to England to take an M.Sc in Social Planning at the London School of Economics. William’s second career began in October 1983, with a role in commercial training for the international security company Group 4, who owned Farncombe Estate.
He remembers the 370-acre estate on Fish Hill, overlooking the Vale of Evesham, long before it had been developed as the Cotswold Conference Centre: “Many of the buildings we know today did not exist. Where we now have our modern reception and dining room was then a tin shed.”
Heart and soul
Group 4’s training business grew rapidly through the 1980s and 90s. After a range of roles in training, consultancy and a PFI (private financing) schools project, William was asked to research the potential for a Lifelong Learning Centre at the Farncombe Estate.
“Jørgen Philip-Sørensen, The Boss [Group 4’s founder, who died in 2010], loved the idea of lifelong learning,” says William. “He particularly wanted people to come and enjoy the beauty of Farncombe Estate.”
In 2003, the new centre launched with a mission to educate. Thousands of people have since travelled to Farncombe for one of the widest education and leisure programmes around. While other adult learning centres are closing their doors, Farncombe still offers specialist weekend courses on singing and French, perfume making and art history, conveyancing, painting and crafts.
Nick Akerman, Head of Sales at Cotswold Conference Centre and Farncombe Estate, says William will be truly missed. “William has been the heart and soul of the Farncombe Estate Centre since its inception,” he says. “The programme is very much the result of his vision and his relationship with our excellent tutors.”
William retires at the end of June, but he’s not planning to relax. His ambitious scheme is to ride a horse, solo, to the four corners of England. Starting in May 2013, he will visit Bowness-on-Solway, Berwick-upon-Tweed, North Foreland in Kent and Land’s End.
Along the way, he will call in to 30 English Cathedrals, including St Paul’s, gathering publicity to raise a massive £250,000 for two charities: Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre – riding for the disabled – and the Family Holiday Association.
“Cathedrals are almost the only buildings in a city that haven’t moved for centuries,” says William. “Castles fall down and town halls get moved – but cathedrals stay put. And I love that connection with history.”