Blitz spirit joins the Facebook age as devastating blaze leaves school in ruins

8th January 2010 at 00:00

As the fire wreaked its havoc, destroying more than 80 per cent of the secondary's buildings, all seemed lost. But community spirit, ingenuity and social networking technology meant Campsmount Technology College was up and running just hours after being burnt to the ground last month.

Most teachers, including those from the South Yorkshire school, normally prefer not to use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to communicate with pupils. But in the aftermath of the blaze, the internet proved as vital as staff and students as they rallied round to avoid an interruption to their schooling.

Only one day was lost, with classes restarting within 24 hours thanks to a website created at top speed, "tweets" and video messages posted online. The cause of the fire is thought to be an electrical or gas fault, and arson has been ruled out.

Even before the last embers were extinguished, teachers were using the internet to appeal for help. The local community, once centred on the mining industry, provided textbooks, computers and stationery. It is hoped pupils could be back on site within 10 weeks.

The school's campaign has been supported via Twitter by Schools Secretary Ed Balls, comedian Peter Kay, TV presenter Jonathan Ross and "first lady" Sarah Brown. Local MP Ed Miliband also got in touch with the school while at the climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Pupils have helped the rebuilding efforts by fundraising, carol singing and donning specially produced "We are Campsmount" T-shirts. They will attend other local schools in year groups until Campsmount is recreated with temporary classrooms on the school site, possibly by February.

"In this day and age, the response from people to our appeal has been incredible considering the state of the country's economy," said chair of governors Dave McEwan.

"We've been offered equipment from all around the UK, with people offering whatever they can. If we didn't have mobiles or the internet, where would we be?"

Only 850 pupils attend the school, but video updates posted online presented by headteacher Andy Sprakes have been viewed about 3,000 times.

Teachers decided to forgo much of their Christmas holiday to continue planning for this term. They are working out of nearby council buildings on their own laptops. The school's server was burnt in the fire, but another was created within two hours.

It is hoped that Campsmount, which was opened in 1964, will be rebuilt by 2012-13. Firefighters concentrated on saving the newest parts of the school - a sports and arts centre - but were hindered by low water pressure.

Demolition work means the only surviving parts of Campsmount are out of bounds. Teachers and pupils will now work at a decommissioned secondary nearby. They will also use a local junior school, a youth centre and space at a local sawmill.

Assistant head Jamie Portman said: "It seems a cliche, but the support from the community really has been amazing. This has been a really humbling time. We've lost everything. But the reaction of the children has been incredible. They've posted thousands of messages on our website.

"We didn't have anyone's numbers to get in touch with them - it was all destroyed. But on the same day as the fire we had a new website up and running. We are trying to go to town across the internet.

"The place looks like something from the blitz, but the children have been incredible. They turned out to give out Christmas hampers in the community, and to our end-of-term party."

Sixth-form revision began two days after the fire, organised on the web. But those without computers have not been left out, with teachers distributing 5,000 appeal leaflets to local homes.

Campsmount was due to be rebuilt as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. Insurance will pay for a basic rebuild, and it is hoped that the local authority will find the money to make it a "showcase" school.

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