So, when on a subsequent visit I arrived in London and found an invitation to a formal dinner for that very evening from the man who had been in the position of granting or refusing my request, I saw it as an opportunity. However, my suitcase was stranded in Holland, and since I was dressed in jeans and sneakers, I went straight out to Selfridges to buy a complete evening wardrobe.
The dinner conversation turned to the company's involvement in a government-run program to improve a group of schools designated by the Ministry of Education as "failing." As an educator, I am acutely aware that poverty, neglect, and decades of resignation on the part of teachers, families, and administrators can have a devastating effect on children's development. The Newham Project, alias Education Action Zone, was to be launched with the personal involvement of the prime minister the following September. By the end of our dinner, I, who had come to see if I might obtain a sponsorship for my project, found myself fully enrolled in theirs. The dim shape of a collective plan began to emerge. It was suggested that I go to one of the "failing" schools to introduce the students to classical music with the idea that children and teachers alike would come to believe in their own creativity through the metaphor of music. Arthur Andersen would take on the expense of bringing the entire Philharmonia Orchestra to the school for a subsequent session. In addition, they agreed to sponsor two hundred of the students who might choose to attend our concert at the Royal Festival Hall. And, oh yes, in recognition of my participation in this educational initiative, Arthur Andersen offered to fully sponsor the Philharmonia concert.
The Eastlea School is located in the toughest, bleakest section of London's Docklands district, where the pupil population is largely minority. In my initial visit to the school to meet with the administrators, I was surprised to see that all the children were under sixteen. When I asked why this was so, it was explained to me that sixteen is the age at which they are legally able to leave school. Thirty of the children were in wheelchairs with illnesses or congenital conditions as serious as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Presiding over the whole institution was the irrepressible and indefatigable Maggie Montgomery, headmistress extraordinaire, who enthusiastically welcomed the prospect of the visit of a conductor of some international renown to her school.