Monday, January 9, 2017

The transition between the school closing in 1982 and the 1985 arrival of British Youth for Christ,

We have received a very interesting email from Stewart Wagstaff, of Ludlow, regarding the transition of the school in 1982,with possibly some detail yet to come.

The chance receipt yesterday of the two attached photos led me to look at this site for
The first time.  I do not recognise the people standing near to the cottage where George Parker must subsequently have lived, nor do I recognise the location of the bridge - indeed it may have nothing to do with the school. So, why am I writing?

There is for me and a few other ex employees of Coventry LEA, a significant gap in what went on between the school closing in Summer 1982 and the arrival in 1985 of British Youth for Christ, the foundation organisation  for what is now the Pioneer Centre.

In the early 80's, the Labour controlled City Council were finding it difficult to make a political case for the continued funding of a school some 40 miles distant and which had served its primary purpose - the education of boys somehow displaced from their families or for whom in other ways were considered a match for the unique educational environment.

At or around the the same time, the Government were putting large sums of money at the disposal of Local Authorities to develop the Youth Training Scheme (YTS), and Coventry, already ahead with their "Top Shop" project in the City, saw the closure of the school as an opportunity to retain the site and to develop a residential element within their YTS programme.

To cut a much longer story short, I was appointed as Head of Centre for what became The City of Coventry Centre. Over what would have been the school Summer holiday period of 1982, existing staff - bar one less willing to move off site - departed and made way for a new regime. We were given one year to demonstrate the viability of the project and if successful we would be granted a further three years of development.

The YTS trainees arrived on a Monday and departed on a Friday. They were all 16 to 18 year olds of both sexes so the programme had not only to develop social and life skills in a residential setting but also provide practical and outdoor activities designed to engender confidence, teamwork and self-sufficiency. Briefly, all the staff bar myself as an existing employee, were newly recruited and given a one year contract. They all had qualification and skills in building, horticulture, catering, outdoor pursuits and group work. An Administrator an part-time Secretary supported the work and the two existing maintenance staff,, Geoff (?) and Tony Booton were retained. Within a tight and full day programme we undertook maintenance of the site, grew food and kept chickens, cooked our own food, enjoyed climbing and camping trips in the area and found time to talk in groups to put the new experiences into a 'back home' perspective.  This was a full-on schedule with no respite for staff at night where the 'lively' nature of adolescents from the city called for tact, firmness and some courage in defusing night time antics!

Great progress was made and the site and facilities developed. Whilst we accommodated the the Trainees in the new building, programmes developed for other fee paying groups were accommodated in the up-graded wooden huts we called 'Longhouses'.  Our work was being appreciated in Coventry and the prospect of more groups attending and providing a fee income was rewarded at the end of the first by a commitment to a further three years. The staff let go their bolt holes and set out to develop the work. For myself, I moved my family from Warwickshire, with my sons going into Lacon Childe's first and third years respectively. Living in what was the Headmaster's cottage was a bonus.All seemed well.

Within three months of making their commitment, the City Council reneged on the project. There was overspending on the YTS scheme and they did not have our confidence  to develop the Centre on  a commercial or otherwise funded basis. Our work came to an end in the August of 1984 with the Centre in much better condition than when we arrived. I was offered a post back in Coventry but declined with as much grace as possible,

The programme now being undertaken by the Pioneer Centre is not dissimilar to the embryonic work of 1982 - 1984.  C'est la vie!

Stewart Wagstaff,    Ludlow

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