Flash back to the 1st ever Rock Challenge® National Final – 10 years later…


There had been talk about there being a Rock Challenge National Final for many years before 2009; a chance for the two regions at that time (Northern and Southern) to finally meet up and compete against each other – in friendly competition of course – but few could have anticipated how truly magical the final event would be.

Few people can imagine being performing onstage in a professional venue – this is one of the amazing things that Rock Challenge offers young people – but even less would have the opportunity to actually perform in as an incredible a setting as Sheffield Arena, but through securing Yorkshire Forward as a major sponsor, this is the amazing chance that those first twelve Nationals qualifiers were given.

Those first-ever National twelve qualifiers were: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PZhgkwDTjs

ASHFIELD GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL, Belfast, Northern Ireland
“Wishful Thinking”
Come to the funfair of life where a very wise but disgruntled genie shows how people can waste their hopes and dreams on material things. The genie offers a moral to the tale. Wish for something that will last, something that will stay with you forever!

“The Kiss”
Entwined and entangled this fairytale begins,
The forest was their haven, before revealing its sins,
Go through the door to darkness, the lovers, each other they miss,
Can they reach out to each other for one last kiss….?

“The Little Ships”
When the call came, they were waiting. When the call came, they went. A community in the heart of Britain sends its bravest to war but as Hitler’s army advances, the troops are trapped on the beaches of France. We consider the evacuation of over 300,000 troops from Dunkirk a ‘miracle of deliverance’. Was it military disaster or propaganda victory?

HORNSEA SCHOOL AND LANGUAGE COLLEGE, Hornsea, East Riding of Yorkshire
“Grim Tales”
Society is quick to point the finger of blame at the media: television, film and games, for the increasing levels of violence in young people today. Ironically the ‘magical’ fairytales presented to our children for generations, written by the Brother’s Grimm, also have a dark side reflecting their fear and hatred of their own mother.

“Through her eyes”
When young Anne started writing in her diary about family, friends and her home life she could never have imagined that her scribblings would become one of the most important historical documents of the 20th century and an inspiration to teenagers everywhere. Tonight we enter the imagination of 13year old Chelsey as she reads the diary of Anne Frank.

“Spirit of the Nation”
Eva Peron, a rags to riches story, a young woman’s aspirations of glitz and glamour that turned into a journey of political strength and unity to the people of Argentina. Set within the busy streets, a fusion of music and dance discovers with passion, love and powerful influence how one poverty-stricken child became the “Spiritual Leader of a Nation”.

“This is my statement…..”
This is my statement… In December 1980, Mark Chapman committed a crime that tore the nation apart. The assassination of John Lennon left fans in pieces, mourning one of music’s most influential icons. Lennon’s mystical lyrics along with Chapman’s obsession with the Catcher In the Rye, led to the death of a man but the birth of a legend.

“The Writings on the Wall”
Imagine a world with the key to life – Ancient civilisations let the knowledge of such a key run like a golden thread through their lives, implicit in the teachings of all the prophets and great people in world history. But what happens when such knowledge is suppressed? Power versus humanity, ruins of the ancient world or a world in ruins?

RYDE HIGH SCHOOL, Ryde, Isle of Wight
“Just Desserts”
During Marie Antoinette’s reign of 1775 to 1792 poverty in France was at its worst. The starving peasants, furious with their Queen, pleaded for help, but selfish Antoinette supposedly dismissed their begging. Story has it that the weak rebelled and over-powered the Queen’s court. Haunted by guilt and the skeletons of her friends, Marie Antoinette awaits her Just Desserts.

SANDOWN HIGH SCHOOL, Sandown, Isle of Wight
Jealous eyes breed wicked actions. Denied Beauty’s heart, the evil Warlock’s mind cracks and curses fly. Drawn to the mysterious forest, destiny brings Beauty and her once-handsome suitor together once more and plans are forged before bewitched eyes. Will the Warlock learn that love cannot be conjured? Where does the real beast lie?

THORNTON GRAMMAR SCHOOL, Bradford, West Yorkshire
“Pure Imagination”
Welcome, my friends. Please step forward into a land of wonder. You will see everyone’s favourite, non-pollutionary, anti-institutionary, pro-confectionery factory of fun where our dreams become realities and our realities become dreams! You will be hypnotised by wonder and led astray by greed. Will it be a scrumdiddlyumptious adventure? Hold tight, you never know what might happen.

THE WAVELL SCHOOL, Farnborough, Hampshire
“Tears of Fire”
Three men obsessed with Esmerelda, the gypsy girl who dances in the street. Phoebus a soldier, Frolio a priest and Quasimodo the hunchback. Quasimodo dreams of dancing with her. Frolio decides, if he can’t have her then no one will. Phoebus, the dashing officer, rescues her and she falls in love with him. But will they live happily ever after?

The day itself was incredible and felt like a celebration of how far the event had come in its fourteen years – over a thousand performers, teachers, and supporters coming together to take part in something very special. An added bit of excitement to the day came through the decision to try and break the world record for the largest group air guitar, making every participant an official Guinness World Record breaker (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhIifCgN40Q). Even some schools that weren’t participating made a special effort to come along to take part in it.

The evening show, as you can imagine, was mind-blowing. There was something special in the air and, more so than ever, the twelve schools stepped up their game from rehearsals and the energy bounded off the stage; performers performed with infectious exuberance, stage crews executed moves and choreography with slick skill, and the outstanding work that went into hair and make-up and costumes in the lead up was evidence from Ravens Wood’s egghead aliens, to Buttershaw’s PVC crows, Cox Green’s period efforts, Sandown’s silver gargoyles, and Ryde’s headless UV apparitions.

At the end of the night, the audience and all of the participants were able to fill the arena seats to watch the final results with palpable glee and anticipation. Premier teams Ryde High took 5th, Buttershaw 4th, Ashfield 3rd, and Ravens Wood, but first place went to an Open Division team – Sandown High School with their performance ‘Cursed’. What made this fairy-tale result remarkable, other than the fact that they were an Open team, was the fact that they were actually completely student-led; in addition, they hadn’t even won their local heat – winning through to their Open Final as a highest-scoring second place; all of these facts made them more like underdogs, but at each stage in the competition they improved their performance and that resilience, hard work and the spellbinding nature of their final production is what earned them the right to be the first ever UK Rock Challenge National Champions.

Heats, finals, and national finals have been and gone since with some exceptional performances, atmospheres, and stories, but I’m sure that July day at Sheffield Arena in 2009 will live long in the memories of those that were there as something truly magical.

Here are some memories from two of Sandown’s student leaders that year:

“Wow, 10 years! I can remember my time as student leader for Sandown so vividly, and with glitter-tinted glasses! Rock Challenge gave me focus, drive and determination and fuelled my love for creativity and project management. The skills I developed through those poignant years have served me throughout my adult life and career. The friendships we nurtured were special and the relentless hard work, fun and freedom we felt were truly special. Winning the National Final solidified to me that hard work, hand-made, friendships, honesty, energy and creativity were the only ingredients you need in life to succeed. To all of you wonderful people working on RC right now, GOOD FOR YOU. Go out there and smash it, because the euphoric feeling you’ll experience performing at RC alongside your mates, is one of the best feelings in the world.” Rosie Drake-Amery, Sandown High School 2019 Rock Challenge student leader

“When Sandown High School were announced as the first ever National Champions of Rock Challenge the feeling was indescribable. To have competed that year as an open team, then qualifying for the Southern final, we already felt like winners to even make it to Sheffield back in 2009. Our team was more than just a group of students; we were a family. Having spent many hours after school sticking leaves to costumes, making papier-mâché apples, and ripping up tights, we were already incredibly proud of what we had achieved. Having competed in Rock Challenge for many years and with this being my final year at Sandown it felt like the most incredible end to my Rock Challenge experience. I’ve been one of the lucky people to have experienced Rock Challenge and to have had the pleasure and privilege of being able to compete year after year.” Joe Alabaster, Sandown High School 2019 Rock Challenge student leader

Tim MacFarlane

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