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Village school devastated by fire to remain closed until 2025

25 Nov 2023 3 minute read
Manorbier School. Photo Huw Murphy

Bruce Sinclair, local democracy reporter

A village school which was devastated by a fire just over a year ago, is unlikely to re-open until September 2025, councillors heard.

Manorbier Church in Wales VC School in Pembrokeshire, and its adjoining schoolhouse was severely damaged by a fire on 11 October last year, which broke out in the school roof space.

Pupils and staff were successfully evacuated with no injuries, and a ‘school from school’ was set up in Jameston Village Hall, after a brief period of sanctuary at the nearby Buttyland caravan site.

Members of the council’s schools and learning overview and scrutiny committee, meeting on November 23, heard an update on works to rebuild the school and adjoining schoolhouse.

Ownership

Director of Education Steven Richards-Downes said works to reinstate the building had commenced after ‘in principle’ decisions by the council’s Cabinet, hampered by “the complexities of ownership around the building and adjoining school house,” both owned by the Diocese of St Davids.

He said a phased approach to reinstate the buildings started with preliminary works – now completed – starting in early October, with second phase works, through the diocese and its insurers, expected to be finished by the end of the year, before being handed back to the council for the third phase.

Councillor Alistair Cameron asked when the pupils could return to the rebuilt school, a September 2024 date having previously been mooted, Mr Richard-Downes saying it was “unlikely to be September 2024”.

Councillor David Howlett said an item from an earlier committee report, which stated surplus spaces at the school had risen from just under 55 per cent to 72 per cent from 2022-’23, describing the figures as “stark,” adding: “If that continues it paints a very worrying picture”.

He was told there was no evidence of any significant change as a result of the fire; with families moving in as a result of a nearby housing development expected to increase numbers.

Housing developments

Local member, Cllr Phil Kidney thanked officers for their work, adding he hoped two new housing developments in the area would bolster school numbers.

On the subject of the school reopening, he said: “It’s not going to be 2024 to be honest, we’re looking more like September 2025; I cannot impress enough the importance that the school has in the community, we’ve lost a shop and one of the pubs is closed in the winter.

“The staff there are so devoted, there’s no question about the level of teaching the children are receiving, they go to Greenhill [comprehensive] they flourish.”

He said it was important the school was kept to the fore: “If we can just ask you to keep this on the agenda and keep it in the headlines so Manorbier is not forgotten.”

Rev John Cecil of the diocese said the school, due to be inspected next week, was “exceptionally well run under very difficult circumstances,” adding there was “certainly a desire to work with [the council] and see that school reopened”.

Cllr Kidney was the last to speak on the update, saying parents were “obviously anxious” about the timescale for works, adding: “But now there is some scaffolding coming out of the ground they’re confident something is going to happen, it all seems to be going the right way.”


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