Why Uffculme Special School should be allowed to occupy Chamberlain House
Why Uffculme Special School should be allowed to occupy Chamberlain HouseReaders of my blog will know that I am quite passionate about the heritage of this city and in particular I hope to, one day, to see the ornate gardens of Highbury Hall restored. It is therefore, with great interest that I attended a public consultation meeting last night about the future of the Highbury Trust estate.
For background material on where the Highbury Trust lands are, I have a powerpoint presentation at http://martinmullaney.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/restoration-of-highbury-hall-gardens.html
In this blog I do not wish to go into the numerous issues raised at the public meeting about consultation, charging for entry into the restored gardens, etc. Instead I want to focus on one aspect that was discussed in detail: whether or not Uffculme Special School should be allowed to occupy Chamberlain House.
I’ll put my hands up now. I think Uffculme Special School occupying Chamberlain House is a brilliant idea. What I found dispiriting last night was that the representatives of both the Friends of Highbury Park and Moseley Community Development Trust questioned whether Uffculme Special School was a good use of Chamberlain House and sought to delay any decision on the school occupying the building. A group of parents of children at Uffculme Special School were understandably getting very irate at the meeting, since they are desperate for Uffculme Special School to move into Chamberlain House.
Obviously, there are two sides to any debate and I will put forward the argument for Uffculme Special School occupying Chamberlain House. Indeed, Councillor Barry Henley (Labour Councillor for Brandwood and Deputy Chair of the Governors of Uffculme Special School) presented an excellent presentation on behalf of school. In a rare spirit of Labour-Lib Dem unity, both Barry and myself were clapping each other’s speeches. The Friends of Highbury Park and Moseley Community Development did not actually put over any reason why Uffculme Special School should not occupy Chamberlain House and instead sought to throw up barriers to delay any decision, demanding more consultation and a need investigate alternative uses for Chamberlain House instead of using it as a school.
To provide some background on Uffculme Special School.
Uffculme Special School looks after children who are in the autism spectrum. The children need a safe environment that is simple in layout and has few distractions. The school is presently housed on a bundle of stuck together buildings on the corner of Queensbridge Road and Kings Heath High Street. The school backs onto Highbury Park.
At the moment, Uffculme Special School is busting at the seams due to a lack of space. The school used to have children in the 4 to 11 year old range. It now has children from 4 to 18 years old. To accommodate these extra children, the car park area has been whittled away with portacabins as classrooms. The school is a hotch potch of temporary buildings, with staircases going up and down to each room. This is definitely not the ideal teaching area for children in the Autism Spectrum who need a simple layout.
Uffculme Special School would like to move into Chamberlain House. Chamberlain House was built in 1940 as a military hospital – at the moment it is boarded up and most people will recognize it as the ‘industrial looking building’ on the corner of Queensbridge Road and Yew Tree Road. It has been boarded up for two years and metal thieves have stripped the interior of all metal. It is estimated that to get the building back into use will require £2million.
From Uffculme Special School’s viewpoint, Chamberlain House is perfect AND they have the money to get it back into use. As a former military hospital the layout is simple (long corridor with wards off it) for children in the autism spectrum. Almost all the children come to the school in mini-buses and there is a large car park at the front that would act as a drop off point.
Next door to Chamberlain House is the Four Seasons Project, which does fantastic work supporting adults with learning difficulties, by giving them horticultural work. Having Uffculme Special School next door in Chamberlain House is like ‘manna from heaven’ to them – there is so much work they can do together with Uffculme Special School and provides a new opportunities to expand their work.
Finally, if Uffculme Special School occupies Chamberlain House they will pay an annual rent to Highbury Trust. Which helps towards putting Highbury Trust on a sound financial footing.
For me, Uffculme Special School moving into Chamberlain House is a ‘no brainer’. It is also a call for the basic human decency in everyone. Here we have some of the most vulnerable members of our community being schooled in the most inappropriate buildings possible. They have the money and the appropriate planning permissions in place to move into Chamberlain House straight away. I am sure even Joseph Chamberlain himself would approve of this proposal.
It is therefore disappointing that respected members of our community – the Friends of Highbury Park and Moseley Community Development Trust – are going out of their way to block this move for reasons that are either, at best, totally unclear and, at worst, pedantic.