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Colin Hodgetts


I was born in Jersey, Channel Islands, in 1940 and so spent four years under German occupation. Most of my schooling was at Elizabeth College, Guernsey. I played clarinet, piano and organ.

At St. David’s College, Lampeter (BA), I held an organ exhibition.
At Ripon Hall, Oxford, I prepared for ordination in the Church of England.
I took a PGCE in RE and Music at the Institute of Education, London.

I served my curacy at St. John-at-Hackney, East London. There I founded a youth drama group, assisted by Geoff and Chris Coward, with whom I wrote five plays which incorporated ‘folk’ music, dance and film slides. We performed in many London venues, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southwark Cathedral, St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and took one production to the Edinburgh Festival and one to Taizé, France. 

I organised the first Caribbean arts festival in East London in 1964.  

In 1968 I worked for the Inverliever Lodge Trust, attached to Crown Woods comprehensive school in Eltham, and was responsible for setting up a residential centre on Loch Awe, West Scotland, for school leavers unlikely to get a place on the usual field study trips. At the same time I edited Sing True, a song book for school assemblies, that was to pay my salary for three years.

After a short period as Peace Officer of the Martin Luther King Foundation I was appointed the first Director of Christian Action, a charity founded by Canon L. John Collins. Our main activities were in the fields of single homelessness, nonviolence and prison reform. With Nick Beacock (organiser of ‘Crisis at Christmas’) and David Brandon I set up a halfway house for alcoholic women in Stepney and a hostel in Soho.

Satish Kumar and I founded the London School of Nonviolence, which met in the crypt of St. Martin-in-the Fields where I was an honorary curate. I founded Tent City (400 beds), at Wormwood Scrubs, and Hackney Camping, to provide cheap accommodation for young overseas visitors.

I was eased out of Christian Action after Canon Collins gave up the chairmanship. The organization ceased to be ‘action’ and became ‘words’. Fortunately most of the activities became independent organizations. Tent City and Hackney Camping continued for another fifteen years.

A short period as a member of the collective running the Student Christian Movement Centre at Wick Court near Bristol was followed by the chaplain/wardency of the Othona Community’s centre at Bradwell-on-Sea. A core group of staff lived in wooden huts on the edge of the Essex marshes, keeping animals, planting trees, growing vegetables, welcoming visitors - up to 100 residents a week in the summer - and worshipping twice daily in the simple chapel built by St. Cedd in AD 654. I wrote the Othona Psalms, which the community published.  

After a few months out to write Exploring Worship for Mowbrays, I was invited by Save the Children to run their resettlement programme for Vietnamese Refugees.

We established a network of fourteen reception centres from Montrose in Aberdeenshire to Hothfield in Kent and a residential school at Bingley, Yorks. We had three main aims: to keep our reception centres small, average 80 residents with a staff of five; to get the buildings for nothing; to train Vietnamese staff to take over the programme. After 18 months, with the blessing of SCF and the Home Office, we set up Refugee Action in which Julia, my wife, and I are still involved. 

Regional offices were set up in London, Derby, Cambridge and Edinburgh with a Head Office in Derby. Lord Pratab Chitnis of the Rowntree Social Services Trust, was  Chairman of Trustees. Projects included establishing mid-term support teams, organising family reunions, commissioning research reports on the Use of Interpreters and the needs of other refugee communities, including Ugandan Asian. The latter led to the setting up of the Asian Family Counselling Service,of which I was chair for eight years. A small overseas initiative was undertaken to rescue a group of women and children hidden in a basement in El Salvador.

In 1982 I became Settlement Director of the British Refugee Council, but resigned the following year, having hived off their Vietnamese programme to Refugee Action, because the organization was top-heavy.

In 1983 I was invited by Satish Kumar, now editor of Resurgence and living in the North Devon village of Hartland, to run an alternative secondary school. I was Head Teacher of the Small School for eleven years and wrote an account of the first five in Inventing a School. Naturally arts and crafts played a large part in the curriculum. At the same time Julia and I bought a derelict barn and cowshed with two acres of land. We have been working on it ever since.  

During a sabbatical I lectured on education for a month in Japan and was invited to take the school there. As a consequence of performing three of the Chester cycle of Mystery Plays on that visit, a tour was organized for a production of The Tempest performed by former pupils and their university friends. Adrian Noble became patron of the Small School Youth Theatre. We toured Japan the following year with The Winter’s Tale. The third year we toured the West Country with Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, for which I wrote the music. The youth theatre was forced to fold because financial pressure on students prevented them from giving up five weeks of the summer to rehearse and perform a play. Cultural exchanges between Hartland and Japan have taken place regularly since.

A change in my life came when I attended a course on Performance run by Anthony Rooley, at Schumacher College. I performed some of my own compositions. Tony told me quite forcefully that I had to give my music greater priority. Back in Hartland I joined the newly-formed Hartland Chamber Orchestra, became its conductor and started making arrangements and writing music for it. A performance of my Shaker Mass at the Beaford Centre led to an invitation to write a full-scale work that would reflect the varied musical life of North Devon to celebrate the centre’s thirtieth anniversary. I chose nine of Ted Hughes’ Season Songs, performed twice at The Plough by Evelyn Tubb, the Winkleigh Singers, and an assortment of instrumentalists.

Meanwhile, I resigned from the school and joined Human Scale Education to establish the Third Sector Schools Alliance to campaign on behalf of small schools, Moslem, Jewish, new Christian and Steiner schools for state funding. Then I went back to the Small School to teach English. Finally, I got to write music full-time in 1999. A holiday in Japan, a visit to Sado Island, a late night sake session with a puppeteer, and a collaboration was proposed. The result, The She-Fox of Shinoda, an opera for Japanese puppets, took up a lot of 1999/2001. A Year of the Artist grant enabled us to take it on a tour of both the West Country and Japan. 

There was a slight hiatus in my life of full-time composition. The new Head walked out of the Small School in November 2000 and I stepped in to run the school until August 2002. I continued to compose, setting all of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.

From June 2003 to July 2007, no one else wanting the job, I became Vicar of Hartland. This has allowed me to do a lot more thinking about spirituality and the nature of Christianity. Although my contract ended in June 2006 I continued to serve the parish on a voluntary basis. At the same time I converted a barn to a holiday let.  

In August 2007 Julia and I embarked on a seven-month journey, mostly by train, to Mongolia, China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, Russia and Estonia.

Poor leadership at the Small School prompted me to join the trustees, and I became their chair. To support the new head, Maya, I taught English for three mornings a week (2009/10).

In 2011-2 We spent a year in Ethiopia.

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Ethiopia