A headmistress has praised the community spirit which helped her school to rise from the ashes of a serious fire.
Three classrooms and an office at a pre-preparatory building of Westbourne House School were destroyed by a fire in January 2015, which investigators found had been sparked by an electrical fault in a fuse box on the roof.
With rebuilding finished and the replacement of lost equipment expected to be completed by September, Victoria Homewood, head of pre-prep, described how a concerted effort from the school community ensured the fire had as little impact on the children as possible.
Miss Homewood said: “The community spirit at Westbourne is really amazing. People just dropped everything to help us.”
Those efforts included gifts of toys and books, with some children even donating their pocket money to help with the rebuild. Incredibly, it took only four days for Westbourne to be ready to take back the 140 pre-prep children.
Miss Homewood said: “We ordered two temporary huts and the community rallied around to create their own world with stairs going up them and gardens. We had the place fumigated and made sure everything was health and safety ready and deemed we could come back.
“It was crazy. We were all working round the clock. We were just trying to make sure the children’s education didn’t suffer.”
The ground staff worked to ensure everyone had power, heat and water while the school’s matrons washed and dried some 80 bags of clothes which had been infused with smoke.
The hard work certainly paid off and there were smiles when the youngsters returned after their four-day break.
Miss Homewood said: “When I got them back on that first day, I made everyone dance to make it a light experience. It could have all been completely depressing but it wasn’t. We got to get new books – every cloud has a silver lining.”
The rebuilding work took around six months and was managed by award-winning Chichester architectural practice jbA.
With a rebuild necessary, the school took the opportunity to also redesign the building. Offices were moved to a more practical location by the main entrance, while large glazed screens were installed in classrooms, with interconnecting oak doors and a glazed door system in the new offices.
John Brown, managing director of jbA, said: “We have loved being involved in the rebuilding of such an important part of our local community. Some of us have had children at Westbourne, so the school is very close to our hearts.”
The children certainly appreciated the work, giving ‘hero’ helmets and badges to some of the team.
Through collaboration with Martin Sewell Builders, the building work was finished in time for the new term in September 2015, leaving the school to face the challenge of replacing lost furniture and other resources.
The latest milestone on Westbourne’s journey back to full working order is due to be reached shortly with the setting up of their library.
Miss Homewood said it would take the rest of the academic year for everything to be back up and running.
Recognising that journey would not have been so smooth without the help and support of the school community, she added: “I was just so grateful and appreciated all their support and encouragement to get us all back.”
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