Language school owner remembered

Worthing success story Helen Solomon, who built what became the town's largest language school from scratch, has died at the age of 78.

Helen Solomon, who built up Swandean School of English, in the 1980s
Helen Solomon, who built up Swandean School of English, in the 1980s

Helen started Swandean School of English in 1976 with one student and built it to 1,000 students every summer before she sold it in December 1991.

Ben Solomon, her only child, said: “She is a real Worthing success story. She was born in Worthing and many teachers and host families were from the Worthing area.

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“My mother started the school from scratch. It became Worthing’s biggest language school and was one of the only ones to survive after the Iranian Revolution.

Leo Solomon with his class on a country walk in High Salvington around 1978

“She got around a lot of things and I watched the school grow.”

Helen took her degree at London University then travelled, including teaching in Italy and New York, before returning to Worthing at the age of 35 with her American husband Leo and Ben, who was five at the time.

She set up her language school and used her maiden name, Scarlett, as she was advised early on that the surname Solomon would cause problems with Arab students.

The first lessons were at her mother’s house in Howard Street and her first students were Iranian.

Leo Solomon with his class on a country walk in High Salvington around 1978

The family then moved to Offington Lane and the bungalow served as both home and school until 1978.

Helen wrote in her book, History of Swandean: “By chance, some of its features, namely a high flint wall, a high wooden gate and a secluded garden, were to be big assets because they secluded us from prying neighbours.”

Friend John Lord became a director as ‘a hobby’ and Helen said his financial guidance helped shape the growth and development of the school.

The number of students grew through recommendation and the name Swandean was adopted in 1978, reflecting the area of Worthing near Offington and chosen by Leo because it sounded very English, like Roedean.

Both Helen and Leo taught classes and having these in the home eventually took its toll. With the numbers continuing to grow, it was decided the school should have its own premises, which were found in North Street.

But then disaster struck in spring 1980, when the Iranian Revolution nearly finished the school, as the regime would not let the students out of the country.

Helen explained in her book: “Swandean faced a crisis. Almost overnight it had lost over half its students and half its income.”

Fortunately the overheads were relatively small and with Helen, Leo and John working together on a new marketing strategy, they were able to survive.

It ended up in large premises in Oxford Road and was sold when Vosper Thorneycroft made an approach and Helen decided it was a good time to take early retirement.