A school anniversary to remember

A significant anniversary is a great hook for raising your school’s profile. But when it comes to a 600th birthday, it’s time to pull out all the stops. Jo Ballantine, director of development at the Royal Latin School in Buckingham, details an incredible year of festivities and legacy building

The 600th anniversary of our 1,290-pupil grammar school has loomed large in our minds for over a decade – and we knew we wanted to do justice to this huge milestone. Aside from the obvious ideas of holding a celebration, the school felt it wanted to create real purpose around the anniversary activities in 2023, and to find ways to create a true legacy from the things we would be doing.

It soon became apparent that the anniversary wouldn’t just be a one-day celebration but would consist of a comprehensive programme of activities across the entire year. We were also clear that the anniversary would not be used as a fundraising vehicle for the school. Instead, we positioned it as a year of giving back to our community, as well as an opportunity for the school to deepen engagement with stakeholders. As it turns out, however, our many anniversary activities have led to pledges of support for future capital projects.

Creating legacy

We formed a volunteer committee to lead the anniversary planning and delivery – and we got to work. It was quickly agreed that we should draw up a 2023 Charter to give structure to the legacy we wanted to create. The charter consists of a set of pledges to our community, to our heritage, to the planet and to our future. It includes a whole range of activities, from planting trees to volunteering challenges, a community awards scheme and increasing community access to our archive. We published our pledges on the website and displayed them around school, so they were a daily reminder of the purpose of the year.

Events and initiatives

Aside from the charter activities, we wanted the anniversary to consist of a mixture of events and other initiatives. We devised a calendar of events for the year – everything from a formal candlelit launch in the town’s chapel to reunions, talks, photocalls, a garden party and large gala ball.

All events (with the exception of the garden party and gala ball) were free of charge. Between events, we kept momentum going with lots of virtual interaction, the launch of our anniversary shop and merchandise range (ties, mugs, badges, tea towels etc) and the promotion of a book about the history of the school, which we commissioned an alumnus to write. There was always something going on!

In person and virtually

We created a feature wall displaying a huge timeline of our 600-year history. We also commissioned a special leather-bound 2023 visitors’ book to encourage alumni to come back to school and record their name in it during the year. We encouraged all staff, students and event guests to sign too.

Knowing that not everybody would be able to travel to visit the school, we made sure we could offer plenty of ways for people to engage with the anniversary remotely. We created a virtual visitors’ book so that people could send us their messages. We also built a virtual, interactive timeline on our website, allowing visitors to scroll backwards and forwards through our 600 years of history. Plus we launched a digital archive enabling alumni to explore photos, magazines and programmes at their leisure, and set up an alumni platform (RLS Connect) so that alumni could reconnect with each other.


The variety of the calendar and the sequencing of events and initiatives throughout the year has worked well. We deliberately launched our book about the school’s history at the end of 2022, to create the context for the anniversary and build excitement for the year ahead. The rhythm and flow of events during the year has also kept momentum going.

We had a formal launch at the start of the year. We then ran events every month, leading towards a full day of excitement for the whole school and town on our Founders’ Day in June, when we persuaded the Red Arrows to do a flypast above the site. This was followed by further monthly events through to a formal close to the year in December.

The events themselves have been really successful. The only exception was one reunion date in May, which simply didn’t get the take-up seen by other events for reasons we haven’t quite been able to fathom! In response, we simply reviewed the calendar and focused our efforts on the other reunion dates, which were well attended. We were also fortunate to get many offers of sponsorship and financial support for the events, from new donors as well as existing ones. Five sponsors stepped forward to sponsor each of our Extraordinary People Awards, including ek robotics, Racelogic and HSO. We also had generous support from individual alumni. Interestingly, the majority of sponsorship came from alumni in the United States. This made a huge difference to what we were able to deliver and it meant that the major events were cost neutral.

The widespread support and excitement created by the anniversary among all of our stakeholders has been brilliant. Perhaps we were lucky with the timing, but it seemed as though our whole school community felt very ready for a positive year of celebration! The anniversary has allowed us all to take stock, pay tribute to the past and look forward to the future. It has also elicited many expressions of deep appreciation and respect for the school, leaving us in no doubt about how people feel.

We’ve been able to strengthen our relationship with the town, and we’ve planted local woodland and carried out more than 5,000 hours of volunteering. We recruited 343 career mentors for our sixth form, as well as new volunteers and pledges of support for our future capital projects. We have the sense that the true legacy of the 600th anniversary will continue to reveal itself over many years to come.

Tips for anniversary planning and delivery

  • Try to offer something for everyone (including students) and a mixture of formal and fun.
  • Consider tweaking your branding for a special year – we went gold.
  • Plan well in advance – we started in late 2021.
  • Contact the media and make the local area feel involved and proud too – we ran a community café and flew our flag on the museum roof on our launch day to take the anniversary out to the town, which helped get regional TV coverage.
  • Punctuate your year with milestones and give it a clear beginning, middle and end.
  • Think about creating purpose and legacy to give depth to the year.
  • Use volunteers as much as possible, including a student committee.
  • Talk about the future as much as the past – the most common question we’ve been asked this year is ‘What’s your next project?’
  • Control any costs and seek sponsorship – if you can’t afford it, don’t do it!
  • Maintain momentum and measure impact, and document as much as you can to create an anniversary file to keep in your archive.

Further reading

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