The end of an era

Pupils and staff from St Michael's First School enjoying their time at Ford castle.
Pupils and staff from St Michael's First School enjoying their time at Ford castle.

TEACHERS at a north Northumberland school have spoken of their sadness and disappointment over the imminent closure of an education centre.

Northumberland County Council has leased Ford Castle from its owners, the Joicey family’s Ford and Etal Estates, since 1956 but amid huge budget cuts the centre is set to close at the end of August.

St Michael’s C of E First School, in Alnwick, recently took their Year 4 pupils for a three-day residential trip, the last time the school will go to the centre.

Teacher Gavin Johnston, who has been going to the centre with different schools for nine years, described the closure as a ‘massive loss’ saying that while there were similar centres in Hexham and Cumbria, they were much more outdoor activity-based and very expensive.

“It will take some investigation to find somewhere as suitable,” he said.

“Two of the leaders here are qualified teachers and they do lots of things with the children.

“And the bit the children like most is playing hide and seek in the dark using the gardens. It’s just such a safe environment for them.

“We make a big deal of the trip for the children in Year 3 and then its something to look forward to and it’s become a school tradition.”

Victoria Harrison, another teacher at St Michael’s, first went to Ford Castle as a pupil of Chantry Middle School in Morpeth.

She said: “I absolutely loved it and was really excited to bring the children here to have the fun that I had.

“Back then we went sledging in the snow and I have been revisiting all the spots from before. And I’m staying in exactly the same room.

“It’s definitely a big loss. I have distinct memories of my time here, just having fun with mates away from home.”

Another mourning the loss of Ford Castle is Jim Wigfield, who works as a field studies instructor at the centre.

He described the closure after 55 years as the end of an era.

“It’s very sad. Some of the schools have been coming for 30 years.

“It’s been a very happy fellowship with lots of different schools and the children have great fun here,” he said.

“Some of the schools booked in the summer term are bringing Years 3 and 4 together so they all get a visit.”

He also highlighted the impact that will be felt in the local area with the loss of about 12 jobs including instructors, cleaners, kitchen staff, managers and a caretaker, many of whom come from Ford or the surrounding area.

“And there will be a loss of income to the area because we visit other places such as Heatherslaw Mill and Doddington Dairy,” he added.