INNER-CITY children from south London have walked through the doors of their new boarding school at Stedham.
Despite various setbacks, last week the Durand Academy opened the doors to its free weekly boarding school on the former St Cuthman’s site, after years of planning.
This year 48 Year 9 pupils aged 13-14 will travel to the school, boarding three nights a week. On Mondays and Fridays they will be taught at Durand’s London site, although this will extend to full weekly boarding in the future. Executive head teacher, Sir Greg Martin, said it was an ‘incredible feeling’ to open the doors after five years of planning.
St Cuthman’s was purchased in 2010 by the Durand Education Trust for £3.4m. Durand has submitted a planning appeal to add extra buildings to the site and the Department for Education has agreed to co-fund this subject to planning up to the cost of £17.34 million.
The academy is appealing after the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) refused permission for a 375-pupil school.
Former chairman of West Sussex County Council, Mark Dunn, has long spoken in favour of the project. “I am confident that over the passage of time the community will recognise this development will add greatly to the quality of life in West Sussex,” he said.
Shontae Campbell,13, from Stockwell in south London, said: “St Cuthman’s is different. It’s at peace. No cars, no music, no shouting. It is almost a different planet.”
Her classmate Iman Najjingo, 14, added: “It gives me a good atmosphere to work in. It is a serene, educational building. When you are here you just feel you should just try your hardest. Being from south London I never thought of going to a boarding school, let alone it being free.”
But for campaigners against the project, their nightmares came true with the arrival of the first coach, and now they have called on their MP to help fight the proposed expansion of the site. As children settled in, protesters vowed to fight even harder against ‘fundamental flaws in the project.’
Stedham resident Dr Adrian Hearle said: “We have asked Andrew Tyrie to take this up directly with the new Secretary of State for education, Nicky Morgan, and protect the tax payer from a waste of public money. Various organisations, including the National Trust and South Downs Society have submitted objections and the three local parishes are united in their campaign together with the SDNPA to defend the planning appeal in February.”
Chairman of Woolbeding with Redford Parish Council Anne Reynolds, added: “Durand claims to be the Eton of the state sector, which is hard with only one sports field. They also say they will soon be up to 100 pupils, which is difficult to imagine in the confined space they currently have.
“There is an assumption they will win the appeal and build the school. They have to follow due process and await the result of the enquiry in February. We were not told about their impending arrival but Durand does not communicate with the local community on any level.”