Susy Powlesland obituary
From The Guardian 26 Mat 2020
Tue 26 May 2020 13.02 BSTLast modified on Wed 27 May 2020 09.55 BS
My friend Susy Powlesland, who has died aged 90, was a radical educationist. With her husband, John, she set up the alternative Kirkdale school in south London in the mid 1960s. The school adhered to principles of self-sufficiency, equality and creative learning, focusing on the particular interests of the individual child. It ran for over a decade and created a community that still exists today.
Susy was an only child born to Jewish parents, Emilie (nee Preis) and Felix Michlowitz, in Vienna, where her father ran a watchmaking and jewellery business. When she was nine the family managed to get on the last train out of Austria before the border was sealed at the approach of the second world war. They were billeted initially in London but were driven out by the blitz, and taken in by a woman in Reading, where Susy never felt fully at home.Advertisement
She attended local schools, and after leaving Kendrick girls’ grammar school at 16 trained as a nursery nurse in Reading, then was accepted for teacher training at the residential Gypsy Hill Training College, in Kingston, Surrey. She taught at primary schools in Stratford, east London, and in Leicestershire. She met John Powlesland when they worked together at Forest School camps. They married in 1954 and later settled in London.
Susy was keenly attuned to racial and religious intolerance, and had a passion in particular for the underdog and outsider. In his 2007 book The Islamist, Ed Husain describes a terrifying incident when a group of National Front thugs threatened him and other Muslim school children in a local playground. Susy and the other teachers raced to the side of the children and roared at the shaven-headed bigots.
Susy lived in Tower Hamlets for more than 40 years. During her headship at Sir William Burrough school (1980-95) she had a huge impact on the children and families. She went out of her way to support newly arrived Bangladeshi children, especially those without immediate family. In the 1980s, she learnt some Sylheti and travelled to Bangladesh to learn more about the cultural background of her pupils.
In 1984 she was the driving force behind the establishment of the Limehouse Housing Project, whose chief aim was to improve the lives of black and minority ethnic communities through the provision of good quality housing. In 2003 she co-founded a new local charity called the Globe Community Project, which aims to provide activities for young and old residents from diverse communities. She was appointed MBE in 2007 for services to BAME people in east London.
After retirement, she became interested in meditation and Buddhism and was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 2003, taking the name Shraddhapuspa (Flower of Faith). She brought her dedication to children and families into her Buddhist life and remained active in her charity roles and her Buddhist teaching commitments until the final weeks of her life.
John died in 1977. Susy is survived by their children, Stephen, Helen, Francis and Ayen, and grandchildren, Zak, Jasmin, Zain and Zachran.Topics