Stoke by Nayland: Church group bids for middle school site

Stoke by Nayland Middle School

Stoke by Nayland Middle School - Credit: Archant

A CHRISTIAN evangelical church has made an offer to buy a soon-to-be closed middle school in the Suffolk countryside.

Stoke by Nayland Middle School will shut its doors this summer as part of the county-wide school organisation review (SOR) which will see all middle schools axed.

But it could open again as soon as September after the Exclusive Brethren, also known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian church, confirmed it was in talks with Suffolk County Council over the purchase of the site. A spokesman for the Exclusive Brethren said the church was interested in opening a school in the village and utilising the school buildings.

The Seckford Foundation, which runs the Beccles and Saxmundham Free Schools, made a proposal to open another new free school at the Stoke by Nayland site but withdrew its interest after plans were refused by the government.

Now the Exclusive Brethren is looking to open an independent school for up to 200 pupils at the site.

The church dates back to the early 19th Century and its members runs about 100 schools worldwide, including 45 in the UK.

Chris Napthine, a member of the church who has been working on the project, said there was strong interest in the site and that negotiations were under way with trustees speaking to council officers.

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He said: “We are interested in the school at Stoke by Nayland and the trustees have had a meeting with the county council but are still at the negotiation stage at the moment. It would be classed as an independent school. It would be a day school.

“Should we be successful in purchasing the property it would be using a good proportion of the buildings and we wouldn’t want to build on the land. It would be mainly for secondary school pupils.”

There are already Exclusive Brethren churches in the region and Mr Napthine said the trustees behind the plans were confident there would be enough pupils to support a new school. He added: “We are not too clear on the numbers but if we are successful we would like to start using the site from September.”

Suffolk County Council has declined to identify its only confirmed bidder so far, leading the Babergh Green Party to call for transparency over the sale ahead of today’s deadline for bids.

Last night the party’s co-ordinator, Robert Lindsay, criticised the county council for dealing with the bidder “in secret”.

He added: “I believe there should be an open tender for people interested in buying the school site - and a reasonable deadline.

“To survive as a community, Stoke-by-Nayland needs young families with young children and a thriving state primary school that local parents do not have to pay to send their children to.

“The village school will not be helped by competition from a private school, but it would be helped by more affordable and local needs homes to buy and rent, which that middle school site could offer.”

Nayland parent Emma Bishton, who was part of a campaign group set up to fight the initial free school proposal, said: “I think an independent school bidding for the site is not likely to have the same affect on our local schools as a free school would have had, in terms of reduced funding.

“The county council should get the best price they can for the site so the money can be put back into the pot to support the developments needed for existing primary and upper schools under the new two-tier system.”

A county council spokesman said: “We can not disclose commercially sensitive information regarding any bids for the site, not least because interested parties have until 5pm on 12 March to register their bids and we have not yet reached that deadline.

“It is in the interest of the community that we pursue options of a continued educational facility on the site. The timescale is such to ensure that successful bidders have every opportunity to make the site ready in time for the new academic year in September.”