Many people have said to me that 2020 is a tough time to move, to start a new life, to take on a new role. In truth, it is a very good time. I’m someone who is constantly seeking a challenge and readily embraces change. If there was ever a time to start afresh, you might as well do it while the world is busy reinventing itself. 

This said, the move I’ve made is not driven by the new, but by the old. I grew up in Huntly, so I knew Aberdeen very well as a child. My mother was an orthopaedic nurse at ARI, and school trips to His Majesty’s Theatre were some of the best memories I have of childhood. Coming back to the North East is therefore a return to familiarity, and happiness. It is a place that is as solid as the granite that defines it.

My wife and I enjoyed a decade where we have worked in England and the UAE. We’ve travelled extensively and got the wanderlust out of our systems. We have two very young daughters and we put a lot of thought into giving them the childhood they deserve. My wife grew up in a war zone and spent her teenage years as a refugee in different countries. She is a gifted linguist, and insists that everything she learned was out of necessity; it was a question of surviving. Her experience contrasts completely with the idyllic time that I had, totally free of worry, with summers on the Deveron and surrounded by good people. When we had the chance to move to Aberdeen this year we knew that it was exactly what we wanted, and needed, as a family.

The most common refrain that I hear is that Aberdeen is a village. True, but as the oft-repeated African proverb tells us, it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a city to provide the range of opportunities that children need to be culturally literate, and streetwise. In these regards, Aberdeen is perfect. Uniquely amongst Scotland’s cities, you can move from urban grandeur to stunning beaches, or rising peaks, in a matter of minutes. I have a fascination with Beirut, once known as the Paris of the Middle East. People there boast that you can go skiing during the day, and then have a barbeque on the beach in the evening. That sense of stark, wonderful, contrast also exists in the North East; we can do mountain peak to sandy shore with ease. 

And as for the city itself, it remains the UK’s hidden gem. We know the strengths that exist here, but I suspect others need to be enlightened. Aberdeen is Europe’s energy capital, and Scotland’s most diverse city, where people have more disposable income than Edinburgh or Glasgow. We are weathering more than one storm economically, with the pre-existing challenge to the energy sector and the more recent impact of COVID, particularly on hospitality. But Aberdonians are nothing if not teuch, and the city’s capacity to reinvent itself should never be underestimated. 

The intellectual capital that we have in our world-leading universities, colleges, schools, and our entrepreneurs provides the most solid foundation that anyone could wish for. I am unashamedly biased when I say that education is the greatest insurance policy that any society could have; it guarantees that no disaster will break the back of the people. When we look around the Silver City, there are more reasons to be optimistic than we might immediately realise.

Which brings me to Robert Gordon’s College, which I see as the beating heart of the city. The future of Aberdeen is de facto the future of my school - and vice versa. We need young people who are fearless, ambitious, and who see things we can’t. We also need them to have a soul, a moral compass that means the things they hold true will not bend under the greatest pressure. I’m very privileged in that I see this every day. If I turn my head about 30 degrees to the left from my desk in the Auld Hoose, I see a bundle of energy around the quad. The pupils that I speak to, the things they challenge me on, and the dreams they have give me a bottomless reservoir of optimism. 

RGC has been around for over a quarter of a millennium, spanning the Napoleonic and World Wars, the industrial revolution and Spanish Flu. As hard as the pandemic has been, it’s not yet in the top ten things that RGC has lived through, and after each crisis the school has gained in strength. That resilience is one of our core values is not because the term is currently in vogue, but because it’s historic. At our recent Founder’s Day, orator Iain Anderson challenged us to “fire up the future”. Challenge accepted.

All of this explains why we jumped at the chance to move to Aberdeen. Walking through the city each morning is a pleasure, and I can assure you that the novelty has yet to wear off. There’s one quotidian moment that I’d like to share, and it happens on the short walk down Belmont Street. My daughter has a lovely habit of breaking into a joyous run as you turn the corner from Union Street down onto the gentle sloping pavement, and each time I see her do this I think ‘this is your home, it will be your identity’. It’s a good thought to have at the start of a busy day.

Robin Macpherson, Head of Robert Gordon's College
Blog: Returning to the North-East