End of era as school heads to pastures new

Duchess's Community High School headteacher Maurice Hall and assistant headteacher Diane Murphy pack equipment into boxes at the Howling Lane site.

Duchess's Community High School headteacher Maurice Hall and assistant headteacher Diane Murphy pack equipment into boxes at the Howling Lane site.

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The final bell has sounded, marking the end of an era at an Alnwick school.

Students and staff at the Duchess’s Community High School will no longer have to put up with leaky roofs, old classroomms and a trek between two sites.

The new Duchess's Community High School takes shape on the Greensfield site in Alnwick.

The new Duchess's Community High School takes shape on the Greensfield site in Alnwick.

That’s because in September, they will move into their new, multi-million-pound, purpose-built facility which is currently under construction at Greensfield, to the south of the town.

It brings an end to schooling at the Howling Lane and Bailiffgate sites, after a long-running campaign to move to alternative premises.

School was out for the final time last Friday, as the students broke up early as part of the preparations for the shift across town. All packing needs to be completed by tomorrow, before the removal company comes next week to start the process of moving equipment to the Greensfield base.

It has been a long time coming and headteacher Maurice Hall has described the move as exciting. However, the poignancy of the occasion is not lost on him either.

He said: “It is sad to see the end of 50 years on the Howling Lane site and nearly 200 years of education on the Bailiffgate site. There will be lots and lots of fond and positive memories.

“As a headteacher though, I can’t but think that life will be a little bit more straight forward on the new site and I am looking forward to a slightly simpler life. It has been a long time coming. There’s been a lot of stop and starts in relation to going onto a new site.

“It is exciting and the new site will increase the number of opportunities and experiences for the students.”

The wheels were set in motion for the move back in May 2012, when the-then Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that the Duchess’s was one of 261 schools across the country which would be rebuilt through the Priority School Building Programme.

The two-storey structure will accommodate more than 1,000 pupils and in addition to classroom and administration space, the new school will include a sports hall, outdoor sports pitches and social and play spaces.

There will be a phased start to the next academic year ‘to allow a successful and in-control start to the new year’, according to Mr Hall.

Individual year groups will spend one day in school during the first week back, with the whole school starting on Monday, September 12.

An application to essentially add a fourth spur, or finger, to the spine of the building was approved earlier this year by Northumberland County Council.

The extension will expand the school from the current 1,115 by some 500 places to a secondary school catering for 1,615 pupils.

The fourth spur would need to be ready by September 2017 for the arrival of Years 7 and 8 following the closure of the partnership’s four middle schools – three in Alnwick and one in Seahouses.

The plan allows for construction of the new extension while the new school remains in operation.

Due to the move, students will be able to pick up their GCSE or AS/A2 exam results from Lindisfarne Middle School.

Anyone wanting to contact the school over the summer holiday can email admin@dchs-alnwick.org or call 01665 602166. The school will also have a presence at Lindisfarne Middle during the summer period.

Commemorative poem captures essence of move

A renowned poet has written a commemorative poem to mark the Duchess’s Community High School’s move to a new site.

Dr Tony Williams, from Alnwick, has produced A New Assembly, which will be displayed in the new school.

To help him write the piece, he collected contributions from students and staff, learning about their time at the school and their feelings about the move.

A New Assembly

We come alone as lambs

We go past buses bustling and the monstrous sound of elephants in the corridor.

And then we’re into a building old as history, the desks held up by chewing gum, the buildings that were temporary once, each door a different squeak, a different handle.

This school is made of flapjack and the frowns of people thinking, and their smiles as well.

The new school will be weird. We’ll get new tables. We’ll get a gym, a studio, a radiation cupboard. It’s going to be, it’s got to be, just so much better.

We’ll leave the music room, the coldest place on earth.

We’ll leave the leaks, the floods, the stench of buildings drenched in time. We’ll leave the fire alarm, the bell, the fights and mates, but find them in the future too.

We’ll go alone, and find our way together in that maze without fear of dampness or of dirt.

We’re sad to leave and glad to go. We’ll take the old school in a box in our pockets hat we can open to take the rickety stairs to where we were. I trace my fingertips along the cracks. It’s like a zoo.

This school’s an open hand. This school is us. You feel like everybody’s watching.

You cover your answers with your arm. Where we’re going, somewhere big and clean, there’s a great blankness filled with vast and mighty souls: our future selves. We’ll break the silence. We’ll arrive. We’ll pass.