Interview with Chaz Pugliese, Director of Education at Pilgrims
Hania: Hi Chaz. I hope you and your family are doing fine. With the vaccination programmes in various countries things are beginning to look up but, of course, it varies from country to country and from continent to continent. Perhaps we can look back and talk about the hard year behind us. How do you see the impact of the pandemic on Pilgrims TT?
Chaz: We're fine, thanks Hania. There finally seems to be a glimmer of hope, the vaccination campaign is in full swing, and the summer knocking on our door... Let's see if we'll be able to put this horrible pandemic behind us!
Well, it's hard to believe it's been a year already, it feels more like a century, to be honest... I have a feeling 2020 will forever be one of those landmark years, like 1968, 1989, or 9/11, in the sense that there's going to be a before and after, a clear and distinct watershed moment in the history of mankind. The pandemic took everyone by storm, and Pilgrims was no exception, of course. We had to be flexible, but we also ha to act quickly, so we decided to pivot online to keep the community together, and to continue to make ourselves useful to teachers, lead and inspire them, which in essence is what our mission is.
Going online was tricky, because it meant having to operate outside our comfort zone. Let me explain: the challenge wasn't so much to run a course online. The challenge was to do it the Pilgrims way, that is, without betraying our humanistic principles, staying close to our mission. And that's what we've done. Since June last year we've been busy running shorter workshops and courses online, synchronously, and feedback about these has been terrific.
At Pilgrims we're always busy drilling for novelty, looking for new avenues to explore, so in December 2020 we launched the Pilgrims Café, a space where trainers and teachers meet up to share ideas and, ultimately, support each other in these very harsh times. I'm pleased to say the café has been a big hit, attended by an average 150 people on a monthly basis. On a personal level, and I don't want to blow my own trumpet, I consider one of my obligations to create an environment for trainers to do their very best, and I think the café has also provided that, to an extent.
Hania: Now let’s talk about another development. How has Brexit affected Pilgrims TT?
Chaz: Well, yes, on top of the pandemic, we had to deal with the aftermath of Brexit as well. As a result of the the UK crashing out of Europe, Erasmus-funded courses can no longer take place in the UK. Which means that we had to say goodbye to our beloved Canterbury. As of the summer 2021 Pilgrims will be running its Summer Teacher Development Institute in Limerick, Ireland. As I write this, (end of May), it's not 100% clear what is going to happen: Ireland has a tight quarantine protocol in place, we hope this will be lifted before our programme kicks off at the end of June. But let me say that on top of our courses in Limerick, we will continue to offer courses online. We know that many people would like to come to Pilgrims and take a course with us but don't have a chance to do so. And this is where our online workshops come in : if you can't come to see us, we'll bring Pilgrims to your threshold! Let me tell you more: these online workshops, held on Zoom, live, are not a typical sit-back-and-listen lecture. Not at all. Participants engage in numerous activities, we want teachers to experience the activities, and then we want them to feel empowered, that is understand the theory behind the activity.
But the big novelty this year is that Pilgrims will be running in-person courses in several cities across Europe: Paris, Segovia, Milan, Edinburgh, and others. These are three-day non-residential courses for teachers wanting to combine training with a holiday in beautiful places. These courses will be advertized on our website and our FB page, and they're eligible for Erasmus+ funds.
Hania: What are the advantages and new opportunities resulting from the change of location and country? Will you personally miss Canterbury? After all Pilgrims was Canterbury which is even reflected in the name…
Chaz: Yes, I'll miss Canterbury, I think we all will... Canterbury was home to Pilgrims for nearly 4 decades, after all... The campus life, the buzz, and for me the very easy train ride from Paris, where I'm based, the ferry to Dover on a sunny day was a real treat! But what can I tell you, I guess all good things come to an end. We'll cherish the wonderful memories, it was a great ride, and I think we should all be grateful to Mario of course, the late Jim Wright, and the wonderful trainers (some of whom sadly no longer with us, like Bonnie Tsai and Paul Davis) who made the place so unique. On the other hand, at Pilgrims we've always loved exploration and change, and I'm sure that Limerick, and Ireland, will just add another exciting chapter to the history of Pilgrims: I'm also sure that working in a new environment will bring us renewed energy, new stimuli, which will lead to new ideas and developments, and I find all that really exciting!
Hania: Tell us more about the plans for the future? How will Pilgrims be changing and evolving?
Chaz: First off, let's hope the pandemic gives us a break! We have to stay focused on the summer, we're keeping our fingers crossed and we'll see what happens. We'll continue to run workshops and courses online no matter what happens in July: all we want to do is keep in touch with the fabulous Pilgrims community and continue to make ourselves useful to the teachers and schools all over the world. That said, our main hope is that we'll be allowed to travel soon, so that we can visit teachers in their home countries, go to conferences, in short, resume the good old things we used to do before the pandemic hit us. Something else in the pipeline, Hania: you'll remember in the 80's and early 90's I believe, Pilgrims published a series called Recipe Books for Teachers. These books, written by Pilgrims trainers, were hugely successful back then. but have been out of print for a while. Now, we'd like to resume the series, publish brand new recipes but in a digital format. So, there you go, something else very exciting to look forward to, so as they say, watch this space!
Hania: Thank you Chaz for sharing with us your thoughts and plans for the future. I can’t wait to see and enjoy all the new developments at the post-covid and post-Brexit Pilgrims. I will ask you for another interview soon...
PS. For last minute updates go to:
Interview with Chaz Pugliese, Director of Education at Pilgrims