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Kingsley Fairbridge's 'Vision Splendid'

Kingsley Fairbridge, born at Grahamtown in South Africa, in 1885, was the son of a land surveyor to the Cape Government who, in 1896, moved with his family to Rhodesia. Young Kingsley went with his father on many of his survey expeditions and learnt to know the emptiness of the Rhodesian bush. Then, in 1903, aged 17, Kingley paid a visit to his grandmother in England and saw, in stark contrast, the big cities with their slums, crowded workhouses and orphanages. He was deeply moved at the thought that children's lives were being wasted.

After a year he returned to under-populated Rhodesia and began to frame in his mind what he called his 'Vision Splendid'. To quote his own words - 'I saw great Colleges of Agriculture (not workhouses) springing up in every man-hungry corner of the Empire. I saw children shedding the bondage of bitter circumstances and stretching their legs and minds amid the thousand interests of the farm. I saw waste turned to providence, the waste of un-needed humanity converted to the husbandry of unpeopled acres.'

To try to make his vision come true he decided that he must try for a Rhodes Scholarship. After initial failure he won his Scholarship and was admitted to Exeter College. There, on the 19th October 1909, he addressed a meeting of 49 fellow undergraduates at the Colonial Club, on the subject of Child Emigration, and that night Oxford saw the foundation of the 'Child Emigration Society', later to become the Fairbridge Society.

In spite of recurrent attacks of malaria, contracted in the Rhodesian bush, he worked tirelessly to make a beginning with what he knew would be his life's work, talking to, and pleading with, people in high places-among others Mr L.S. Amery and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was from Western Australia that he received the first offer of land, and in 1912, with his wife Ruby whom he had married in the previous year, he established the first Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra, 50 miles south of Perth, and received into his care the first party of 13 orphan children from Britain. And so began a great work, which in the years ahead was to offer to thousands of children a new life and a future bright with promise.

The Fairbridges had to face appalling difficulties, made worse by shortage of funds, and only their courage and determination carried them through the First World War (Kingsley himself tried to enlist but his malaria made him unfit for military service.) After the war an appeal of funds, sponsored by the Prince of Wales and his brother princes, brought much-needed relief, and the Farm School at Pinjarra began to flourish. But in 1924 Kingsley Fairbridge died, at the age of 39, leaving so much still to be done for a full realisation of his Vision Splendid.

The Fairbridge Society carried on with the work; other farm schools and smaller centres were established in Australia and Canada to receive more orphan and destitute children from Britain.

In the 1950s and 1960s changing laws and economic and social conditions reduced the flow of unaccompanied children from Britain. Subsidiary schemes, for large and for one-parent families, proved successful for over a decade until first Canada and the Australia placed increasing restrictions on migration. In 1981 the last village (the former farm school) at Pinjarra, WA, was closed.

The Society, in keeping with Kingsley Fairbridge's ideals, with in the future work to provide special help for disadvantaged young people in the inner-city areas of Britain who need social experience and vocational training to assist them as young adults and in employment. The Vision Splendid for the 1980s is still to rescue such young people from the desolate life of the inner cities. The year 1983 has seen the launching of the Fairbridge Team of Drake Fellowship, the official opening being performed by HRH the Duke of Gloucester in October. The aim of this scheme is to give trainees motivation and self-confidence through adventure training.


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