When a retirement village resident volunteered for a pen pal scheme, she had no idea that she’d end up starring in an episode of a hit children’s television show.
A pen pal scheme at St Monica Trust’s Cote Lane retirement village caught the attention of producers of the CBBC show, Our Boarding School who were filming next door at Badminton School.
Rachel Newton (83) has been writing letters to two Badminton Year 7 pupils, Chloe and Flo for the last eighteen months. An avid letter-writer throughout her life, Rachel is a former drama teacher and lived in Africa with her husband, John who was a Methodist Minister.
Rachel said: “I’m a great campaigner for letter writing, even if it makes me old fashioned, and I thought it would be interesting to get an insight into life at an all-girls boarding school, especially compared to the inner city schools I used to teach in.
“The producers then heard about the pen pal scheme and when they approached me about taking part, I said ‘Yes, why not?’. I hadn’t been able to meet Chloe or Flo face-to-face previously because of the national lockdowns, so the first time I got to meet them was for the television show when they came to visit me in my apartment.”
Our Boarding School is a fly-on-the wall documentary series that follows the ups and downs of young people at school, and was filmed at Badminton School during the 2021/2022 school year. During filming in April this year, Rachel also got to the visit the girls at their school, which led to the most memorable and heart-warming part of the episode.
“When I was told there was going to be a big surprise at the end of the filming, I thought it was going to be a cup of tea and a piece of cake that the girls had made for me. But no – it was much bigger than that.”
“I asked the girls after it had finished: ‘Did you know this was going to happen?’ and they said ‘Yes, but we weren’t supposed to tell you’. I can’t give too much away, but it was absolutely wonderful!”
Rachel has been a resident at Cote Lane for eighteen months and moved there from Westbury Village after her husband passed away. Chief Executive of the St Monica Trust, David Williams said: “Rachel’s participation in both the pen pal scheme and the filming of Our Boarding School is a real showcase for the level of skills and experience that older people still have to offer the world.
“It’s wonderful to see our residents using their knowledge and expertise to inspire others and Rachel’s example is a real testament to the fact that we are all capable of creating magical things in later life.”
On Friday Rachel will be sitting down to watch the show with her friends, family and fellow residents. With their parents’ permission, she is now corresponding directly with Chloe and Flo and hopes to see the girls in person again soon.
“During filming, I forget all about the camera until I was hardly aware of it. For me, the real thrill was getting to know Chloe and Flo. Their letters were so beautifully written and articulate. For them to share their lives with me was a real privilege and they were such fun! Taking part in the television show was the perfect cherry on top of a rather lovely cake.”
Rachel’s episode entitled, Pen Pals will be broadcast on CBBC on Friday 7 October at 10.35am and be available to watch on iPlayer afterwards.