Campaigner says school closure will be 'death knell' for community
Two academies in Ilkeston are to merge because of falling numbers less than two years after they were set up, meaning closure for the former Bennerley School. Liz Potter , a Bennerley Action Group member, expresses her feelings about the situation.
THE news broke on Friday afternoon that the Government had approved the closure plan of Ormiston Enterprise Academy – formerly Bennerley School – in Cotmanhay. There was thick snow falling outside that day as local residents became aware of the devastating news that the plug was to be pulled on their local school which had been on the site since Victorian times.
Like the snowfall that day, it gradually sank in that our local school at the heart of our community was to be covered up – not just in a temporary white blanket of snow but permanently erased from view, never to be seen again.
Our hearts turned cold like the blizzard as it seemed to us that it had been a whitewash of broken promises, a flawed consultation process, and what felt like a total let-down by our Erewash MP, Jessica Lee, who apparently just sat on the fence all the way through and did not stand shoulder to shoulder and fight to the death with her constituents for something that really mattered to them.
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Digesting the news that came from the Department of Education that our school would close led to the hard realisation that despite the parents, young people and other local residents in their hundreds telling the powers that be that this was a very bad idea, they had instead just been dismissed.
The Ormiston Academy Trust promised us it was safe in their hands. They promised to rebuild it with the £7.4 million they were given.
The Ormiston Trust took our school under their wing in September 2011 with big promises that it would be developed and promoted and assured everyone that it would benefit from being an academy and would end up being a beacon in the Cotmanhay community.
They had a massive £7.4 million given to them to help them with the task. But less than a year later they told us that they thought it a better idea to close the school and run everything from their other academy in Ilkeston instead.
The Ormiston Trust said that, in hindsight, the big plan and all the promises could not now be delivered, but they said they would consult with us. They asked us to get involved in the consultation and told us they would listen. So we sent in numerous responses and asked numerous questions.
We tried to tell them how much we cared and didn't want this wrong decision to be made that would kill our community. We warned them of the consequences there would be on the community and on the children. We signed petitions. We wrote to the papers and to our MP. There was no doubt that the community didn't want this.
The reaction of all parts of the community is that this is wrong. Despite the so-called consultation events last year, complete with Powerpoint presentations, refreshments, fake-seeming smiles and reassurances and promises of "yes we will listen to you" and "rest assured, people – there will be nothing done without your consent", it all just turned out to be one big let-down.
Plans to merge the academies led to locals being shocked and they packed out the halls where Ormiston held its consultation events, so frightened and worried and feeling let down by the proposal.
Assured they would be listened to, they continued to raise the alarm, sending in well-thought-out questions to the consultation process.
They gathered names for petitions that saw people queuing up to sign and which amounted in the end to over 1,000 people against this dreadful plan that will be the death knell of our neighbourhood.
Local Labour councillors from Cotmanhay and Ilkeston worked tirelessly with the resident-led Bennerley Action Group, asking questions, supporting their campaign and petition-gathering, digging for information demanding answers and reminding Ormiston of the promises made to the community.
Residents wrote to Jessica Lee in droves, pleading for help, demanding it be stopped and had confidence the MP would stand with them and fight against this injustice, against what felt like a breach of contract between Ormiston and the people, and would look into what we thought were blatant irregularities of the consultation process.
Instead, they were to be disappointed by the response as the MP just sat on the fence, never condemning the plan at all, just the speed of it, making apparently hollow noises in her monthly MP column in local newspapers that she was having chats with the ministers at Westminster.
Adding insult to injury for us, she then came out with a ridiculous idea about using the site for a technical college instead. We want our secondary school on that site and nothing else.
Instead we witness yet more of our local services and facilities being closed and biting the dust.