Anselm Fraser speaks to Ampleforth College students

Anselm Fraser, the Chippendale’s principal, recently gave a talk to students at Ampleforth College, one of the country’s leading public schools. Here’s what he had to say.
Ampleforth College is all about providing its students with a first-class education and a compass for life. Both are important; education is invaluable, but we also need to put that education to good use.

That’s where we also need a moral compass. To do what is right for our fellow citizens, and to do what feels right for ourselves and our families.

Too much that is wrong with the world has been driven by individuals, or groups of individuals, who have lost that sense of spiritual or moral purpose.

But that’s also why I believe passionately in people, largely because I have been teaching for thirty years and know that the great majority of people are good and decent.

But sometimes what they lack, and what they need, is that inner sense of purpose. Of course, they need to know what they’re planning to do is going to make them a living.

But more than that. They also need to know that what they’re planning to do is the right thing. And my advice always is: follow your dreams. Break the rules. Create your own world.

The world of work is full of people who have gone from school, then to college or university: decent, hard-working people who end up unfulfilled. Wealthy, maybe, but also with a void within themselves.
In this world, it’s people who matter. It doesn’t matter whether those people are tinkers, tailors, soldiers, spies. Or butchers, bakers or candle-stick makers (if these people still exist).

It’s not products that really matter. It’s people.
So my advice to you is think through what it is you really want to do. Not what your teachers think. Or your parents or guardians. You.

Because you’re only here on Earth just the once (although I’m working on it) and the last thing you want, after having had such a fantastic education here at Ampleforth College, are regrets.

I’ve been teaching at the Chippendale International School of Furniture for 30 years. Over the years, I have taught hundreds of students to realise their ambition to work with wood – mostly as furniture designers or restorers but sometimes, for example, in boat building.

Many have gone on to be hugely successful. And not just UK students. Over the years we’ve had students from every corner of the world.
That’s why, if you follow your heart and head, you don’t have to think of working as work. Because work is drudgery, about clocking off at 5pm for forty years and then picking up a gold watch.

That’s also why, if you follow your dreams, don’t ever think about retiring. Think what you’d like to do in retirement, and make it your life’s work. That way you won’t get bored and you’ll probably live to be a hundred.

I’m living what I always wanted to do. I run a successful woodworking school, and I absolutely love to see students depart to the four corners of the world and follow their ambitions and passions.

I suppose that means that I have been retired for the past 30 years!
But I honestly believe that your work should be your holiday and your holiday your work. Far better to have a holiday for 48 weeks of the year and only, therefore, be working for four!

In other words, if you’re not truly fulfilled in what you do, you are wasting your talents and giving up on yourself. So: treat school by what you will be doing after school and not what you are told to do in school.

You will be at the cusp of a new enlightenment when you leave here, and you all have an amazing future to look forward to. But don’t rush. Be micro-ambitious. Go from one small achievement to the next.

My own career started as a dish-washer on oil rigs, and then in egg wholesaling. But then I remembered what it was I always wanted to do and, in my mid-twenties, set up the Chippendale School.

Remember Winston Churchill’s wise words. “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Remember also that it’s easy to be miserable but it is very tough to be happy. But following your heart is a good start.

PS After Anselm’s talk, we received a message from Amanda Toone, who handles career research and development at Ampleforth College. “Your talk was enormously entertaining with some helpful insights and the students loved it. In fact one girl said that you were the funniest thing she’d been to in ages, that all the students were in hysterics, and she wished that every day could be like that!”

Scroll to Top