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Happy Birthday West One! Interview with Nigel

Today marks the 25th anniversary of West One School and so we did an interview with Nigel, the owner, all about the school over the last 25 years.

Why did you open West One?

I had been a teacher for four years in Castelldefels and I knew I was a good teacher because my students always came back, but at the same time I had a boss who I didn’t like who didn’t treat us very well. So, I decided to try and do it on my own.

How did you open the school?

I was living nearby and started walking round looking for premises and I saw this place. It was just three rooms on the other side at first - classes 1,2 and 3. I found out what I needed to do legally with the town hall and at the same time that Christmas I won the Christmas lottery, not the first prize but the fourth one which was about £10,000. I used that money plus a loan to pay for opening the school.

Why ‘West One’?

The original name was going to be ‘Stonehenge’ and I changed it at the last minute. I chose ‘West One’ because geographically if the postcode system was the same in Barcelona as it is in London that’s where we would be. We are to the west of the centre of Barcelona and still quite central.

When was your first class?

I opened the doors on the 1st of June (1997) to enrol the intensive courses. The very first course was an intensive in July with 8 students. We closed for August and on the 1st of September I opened again for enrolment. It was the day after Princess Diana died and I remember sitting in the office crying.

People started signing up for the school year course (October to June). I’d worked out that I needed 40 students to pay the rent and myself a wage. I made lots of posters and my mum gave out flyers on the metro. In the end I got 65 students. I taught them all myself, they were all different ages and levels, and we were open until 10 o’clock at night.

In June I gave out forms to see if they wanted to continue and 64 out of the 65 signed up again. Then more people came and brought their friends so the second year we had around 130 students and that’s when I started to employ people.

How many teachers have worked for West One?

I have no idea! I mean there’s 12 of us now and there’s been lots of movement over the years. I’d say between 30 and 40.

Who’s the longest running teacher?

Michelle and Kate, 21 years this year! They both started in 2001 and I interviewed and hired them on the same day.

And your longest running student?

Victor Sala. He started coming when he was 5 in about 1999 and he’s been coming for 23 years. He comes to maintain his level. He’s not been to class much this year but he still signed up.

How has West One changed over the last 25 years?

It’s grown obviously as we got to the point where we had 650 students and that’s a lot more difficult to manage. Administration wise we’ve had to up our game a lot which has been all down to Michelle really.

I think the school philosophy has always stayed the same which is basically to charge less than our competition and offer a better service. The idea originally was that it would be English classes that were affordable for anybody.

What are your highlights of running West One?

I would say the years that we did the summer camp. We did it for 13 years and they were amazing times and really good memories. It was hard work but we had so much fun and it was really popular with the students and the parents, and really good for their English.

And any difficult moments?

The pandemic was a nightmare for everybody. I feel proud that we survived it, a lot of schools didn’t and I think a lot of that was down to Michelle’s incredible organisational skills. We made a lot of difficult decisions and from one day to the next we put all of our classes online. Luckily, we have an incredible team, they put so much effort into surviving and keeping the students interested and I think that saved us. We got through it and now we’re back on site with masks off, it’s amazing!

Anything to add?

It’s been a good journey. One of the most satisfying things about the school is watching the children change from children to adults. We have adults who came as children who now bring their own children here and that’s really nice. All the positive feedback we get and all the success of the school is down to what goes on in class. We’ve been really lucky with the teachers we’ve got working here. We’ve had some and we’ve got some amazing teachers and I think that’s what it’s all down to.


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