Bury St Edmunds: New educational facility will mean £365,000 investment

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More than £350,000 is earmarked for an innovative education centre in Bury St Edmunds to equip older pupils who have severe learning disabilities with key life skills.

Suffolk County Council has just submitted plans for a standalone block for post-16 students from Riverwalk School to be built in the grounds of Hardwick Middle School.

Hardwick Middle in Mayfield Road will close in summer 2016 as part of the reorganisation of schools in the Bury area and plans have been in the pipeline to relocate Riverwalk to the vacated site.

The county council is looking to spend a government funding award of £365,000 on a new, permanent facility on the Hardwick Middle site now so that it can be incorporated into the new Riverwalk base when the rest of the school relocates there.

Riverwalk, which caters for pupils aged three to 19 who have severe, profound and complex learning needs, is currently located on a constrained site in Bury’s South Street.

Riverwalk’s new headteacher Jan Hatchell believed the new block, where students will be taught skills such as making a bed and using a cooker hob adapted for wheelchair users, would be unique in the Bury area.

“It’s a real opportunity to create the correct provision for our young people,” she said. “A really key issue for the area is helping young people making that transition from childhood to adulthood when they have really significant learning disabilities.”

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The new block, which would be located on a field, will be used to teach 16 to 18-year-old pupils how to live independently. While some of these skills are currently taught at Riverwalk, this would be a specialist facility.

Mrs Hatchell said, if planning permission was approved, building work would hopefully start this academic year, but added any disruption would be kept to an absolute minimum for Hardwick pupils and staff.

Geoff Barton, executive head at Hardwick Middle, said: “We are chiefly just delighted that the beautiful Hardwick site will continue to live on as an educational establishment and will be much better suited for Riverwalk than its current site.”

Riverwalk’s early-years provision will continue to be based at Sexton’s Manor Community Primary School.