Peter Gray – Hands Over the Reins of LSI/IH Portsmouth

Thursday 13th December, 2012 was a monumental day in the history or LSI/IH Portsmouth – with our great leader, mentor, friend and the founder of LSI/IH Portsmouth, Peter Gray and his wife Najat, handing over the reins of the school to our new principle Andrew Edwards and the new owners of the school  NPTC (Neath Port Talbot College).

Earlier in the year we asked Peter to tell the story of how the school started; “I was 21, had finished University and wasn’t sure what to do.  My brother was in Abu Dhabi at the time and sent me a one-way ticket for a holiday.  I had a great time but they’d only sent me a one-way ticket, so I had to get a job in order to get back again!
“Of course the only job I could get there with a History and Economics degree was teaching English.  So I started to work for a complete cowboy outfit.  I had no experience, I worked there for about a year, and what I learnt was how not to run a school.

Very early pic – Entertaining at home – look carefully you can see
a very young Peter and Lea (our Director of Studies)!

“My brother Allan then moved to Sharjah in the Emirates.  Somehow I found myself there and set up a tiny school.  At that stage I was literally living under the classroom furniture.  The Queen had just visited and we ended up naming ourselves the ‘Queens Language Institute’.  Unfortunately our Indian office manager couldn’t pronounce ‘Qu’ and it came out as ‘Coons Ingleesh Langwidjee Institutie’ but it didn’t hold us back!

A few years passed and Peter returned to England.

Peter with an Executive student at Whitwell Road

“I asked Allan if he wanted to join me in starting a school in England, and we found a lovely place in a rural setting, which turned out to be a huge mistake, being in the wrong place.  The students who came over wanted to be in the town with all the facilities a town has to offer, and we were out in the sticks.  Anyway, after two and a half years we were effectively bankrupt.  So we moved to a much smaller, cheaper place in Portsmouth, and found a nice bank manager who helped us with a loan.  Bit by bit it started developing again.  We had about three students and six staff!”

 As time went by they realised they had to either close or expand. They made the decision to move into new premises and then after a couple of years decided to move again.
Peter with some of our lovely Arab students
at Whitwell Road

 “We were very lucky and found a much bigger place, and relatively cheaply.  Slowly we grew into it.  And then we had a brilliant piece of luck: a property developer wanted the premises and offered us a stupid offer for the building to turn it into a theme pub.  The choice then was to either get out while we were ahead or to take the next leap.  Once again we found an incredibly cheap, very large building.  I think our success has been partly luck and partly instinct.  We moved into our new building and today we have an eight floor school which is actually now one of the top schools in England.  At our busy times we have over 50 teachers.”  

Entertaining students with one of our
favourite host families from the past; Ron and Rosie

So what makes a good and successful language school? Peter continues: “The actual key point for a successful language school is to be able to keep quality staff together.  You’ve got to not be seasonal and not be too specific, as there are always problems at some time, like SARS or the Gulf war, which can stop certain nationalities coming.  Because you have good teachers you have good results and then the students tell friends, they come back or send others, and on it goes.  Our facilities are second to none.  I would say good marketing and PR is a good recipe for success.

“The best and the worst thing about owning a school is the same thing; it’s the people: it’s the students and the teachers.  It’s the biggest pain and is also the thing I’ve enjoyed the most”.

Peter and Najat are taking a very well deserved holiday for a few months.  When asked what Peter and Alan intend to do in the future?
“Both of us have a lot of projects in the pipeline, but at the same time we don’t want to cut ties totally with LSI/IH Portsmouth, after all these years, we have invested so much of our lives to making this the successful place it is, so I would have to say just watch this space!”

So, Thursday 13th came, and there were speeches, presents and a lot of reflecting, particularly from the staff who have been with the school a long time.  Tears were shed, but at the same time, as Lea (the Director of Studies said in his speech) when is a good time to leave a business like this? ‘When it is running very successfully and you still have your health’ so although we are all sad at Peter’s leaving, he is wished only wonderful things for his future, and we know we will see him again in some capacity or another (or maybe just in the pub!).

Allan – Peter – Lea
Three friends – together for 28 years
Peter at his farewell party

On the Saturday (15th), we had our annual Christmas party. which was more of a celebration of Peter’s time at LSI/IH Portsmouth (as opposed to the sadness of the Thursday), and Lea gave a lovely speech telling of the history of the school.  The following video shows the presentation in a pictorial form.