Fired up ready to carry on

22nd August 2003 at 01:00
A lot of people have pulled together to help St Bride's Primary overcome last term's blaze, Raymond Ross reports

On the evening of July 16, Donald Thomas, head of educational resources for South Lanarkshire, was working at his allotment on the south side of Glasgow when he noticed a pall of smoke. Then his emergency pager bleeped. St Bride's Primary in Bothwell was on fire.

Rushing to the scene, he was joined by headteacher Mary Doyle, members of staff, parents and pupils, who watched helplessly as the school was destroyed in one and a half hours.

All resources were lost: curriculum materials, books, posters, children's work, photographs, football strips (a particular concern of a lot of the pupils). No information was saved except what was held electronically or in duplicate at the local authority's base in Hamilton. Even the school garden was destroyed.

The next morning demolition men moved in to flatten the potentially dangerous shell. With the exception of the undamaged nursery, St Bride's was no more.

How does a school recover from such a disaster? "The priority was the education of these 240 children," says Mr Thomas. "We held to two priorities: that there would be continuity of education and that we would keep the school together if that was possible."

The result is that St Bride's (except the nursery) is now a school within a school, sharing the premises of St Peter's Primary about four miles away in Hamilton. St Peter's has moved out its nursery so that St Bride's can have the nine classrooms it needs.

St Bride's will retain its identity. It has a separate entrance, office and staffroom and its own janitor but shares physical education, information and communications technology and dining facilities.

A lot of co-operation has been apparent to achieve this move. Mrs Doyle says: "We have had amazing help from teaching colleagues, from the local authority and support from schools in other authorities. Even commercial companies have pulled out all the stops to get us resources in time.

"The staff are impressed by the new accommodation and by the speed at which the authority got things moving.

"In a situation like this you just have to look at the positive things. All our resources are here or on the way. We have the same curricular schemes and furniture with the same colours as before to make the children feel at home."

Pupils are being bussed to and from their new location with council staff escorts. Each new pupil was accompanied to the school with a parent on their first day and when all the pupils have settled in all parents will be invited to visit the new school. In order to keep close community contacts, school board and parent-teacher association meetings will continue to be held at St Bride's nursery in Bothwell.

Work will begin on rebuilding the school as soon as possible at a cost of about pound;3 million: it will be reopened within two years, says Mr Thomas. The cause of the fire has not been established; there was no obvious evidence of malicious fire-raising.

"All our schools naturally meet fire regulations but it may be that the open plan design of St Bride's, built in the 1980s, allowed the fire to spread so rapidly," he says.

"The local authority is moving away from open plan. This will have some bearing on the new school. A more traditional design should provide more fire breaks."

"It was a beautiful school," says Mrs Doyle. "Watching it burn and having to come to terms with that just seemed so unreal at first. Even a week later, when ordering new materials, my principal teacher was listing all the new personal and social development health resources we'd need and I said without thinking: 'But I've already got loads of these materials, Anne.' She looked at me and said: 'Mary, you've got nothing.' It still hadn't sunk in fully."

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