One of Radley’s longest serving staff members, Val James arrived in May 1983 and has been a vital part of D Social ever since. We met Val in what is still known affectionately as her ‘sewing room’ in D Social, overlooking Chapel Quad and asked her about her 40 years (and counting) at Radley.

In 1983 my daughters were ten and eight years old and at Radley Primary School, so I wanted something that would give me the holidays off. I saw a postcard about the vacancy in the shop in Peachcroft so I came up to meet with Mrs Barbaria (known to all as Mrs B), PHM in D Social at the time. She interviewed me and said I could start the next week.

To begin with I worked two days a week. I bagged up the laundry from D Social on a Wednesday and when it came back on a Friday I’d put it all away. Clothes were only laundered once a week so the piles that came back were pretty large. And no such thing as sock bags then, so the socks just came back in one big bag! You can imagine how long it took to sort through them all.

If I had time, I would do some mending as well. After a few years I added an extra day and did some cleaning on a Monday, then I took on the sewing as well, and before I knew it, I was doing five days a week.

Tell us about your day-to-day work now.

I’m back to two hours a day, Monday to Friday. I sort out the laundry and the sewing team does all the mending. It suits me well, I’m on my own now and it gets me up in the morning! I’ve worked with my colleagues in Social for years – we’ve all been here a long time.

What changes have you seen over the years?

Of course, the buildings on campus have changed a lot – new Socials have been built, the big redevelopment of Chapel took place and I had a front row seat for that. I can still remember when the pool here was uncovered. You’d be swimming along happily and suddenly come face to face with a toad!

When Charlie McKegney takes over D Social Tutor in September, he will be my sixth Tutor. It’s interesting to see how the Social changes under each Tutor. I started off with Mr Hirst, then Mr Wylie, then Mr Bamforth, then Ben Holden and currently Harry Crump. The Social itself has changed – when I first started, the laundry didn’t have a door, so it was freezing in the winter!

At one stage they were doing alterations to the Social, so for a whole year I didn’t have a laundry room. On a Friday I had to set up six trestle tables to sort out all the clothes.

Now I have a lovely light room with a great view. There have been a couple of attempts to get the boys to come down and fetch their own sheets from my room, but it never works! So I deliver the sheets around Social and then I go back the next day to check they’ve all been changed. Boys have been known to just put one sheet on top of the other!

I’m sure you’ve seen a few pranks in your time here!

I remember three particular boys, many years ago now. They really enjoyed a prank but you couldn’t help but like them! My bike kept disappearing – they hid it all over the place, including on the roof of the Social. It was very funny and I didn’t want to get them into trouble but I did get my own back – one of them was going back to Australia and when he left I sewed all his boxer shorts up. I never did find out what he made of that!

Is there a highlight in the year for you?

I’ve helped at Gaudy every year since I started here. It’s always a fun day – we help in the Social with serving food, cleaning up afterwards, all sorts. In the summer holidays we would help with cleaning for the Lets, we could bring our children with us to help back then – they loved having the run of the Social when there was no one else here!

I was only going to stay until the kids left school! I enjoy my work, we have a laugh and so I’ve stayed all this time.

What might we find you doing away from work?

I love zip-wiring! Before I had my two girls, I was quite adventurous, but I found once I had children I started to see danger everywhere. My daughters are grown up now and we go on holiday regularly together with my four granddaughters. A few years back we went to a Go Ape and I went on a zip-wire over the forest and lake – the first time I did it I had my eyes closed so I had to do it again! Since then I’ve been zip-wiring in old slate mines in Wales and across Brighton beach and paragliding in Tunisia – that was great. I love travelling, and also going to shows and musicals.

How did you celebrate your 40 years at Radley?

I was treated to a lovely party with a Mexican feast in Shop, all the boys in D Social were there and Max H, Head of Social, made a speech. It was really nice. I had a beautiful bouquet of flowers which was a lovely surprise. I was only going to stay until the kids left school! I enjoy my work, we have a laugh and so I’ve stayed all this time.