Now pupils whose school was shut due to crumbling RAAC concrete crisis will be taught at luxury wedding centre after scandal sparked panic
- St Andrew’s Junior School is closed due to the presence of crumbly concrete
- But local wedding venue Hatfield Place has offered its venue for learning
Pupils at a school made of crumbling concrete with the texture of an Aero chocolate bar are being shifted to a luxury wedding venue for at least another month as the government continues to contend with the crisis caused by the cheap material.
St Andrew’s Junior School in Hatfield Peverel, Essex, was expected to be closed until mid-September after bosses discovered the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) – a budget building material that is prone to collapse.
Administrators hoped to have temporary classrooms set up by now but with the facilities’ arrival delayed, they have had to seek out alternative venues from which to run the foundation school – and a luxury wedding venue has stepped up.
Alison and Ian Twinley, owner of wedding venue Hatfield Place, say they can spare the Georgian manor’s converted stable block for lower school pupils, while upper school pupils have been allocated rooms in the formal house for learning.
The adjoining paddock within the grounds serves as a playground – giving children a chance to run about and expend some energy between lessons.
St Andrew’s Junior School in Hatfield Peverel, Essex, is having to relocate pupils to a wedding venue after reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) was discovered in the building
Marie, seven, and big brother George, nine, are among those attending St Andrew’s Junior School – via a converted stable block and wedding venue in Essex (above)
The Hatfield Place wedding venue in Essex (left) and the converted stable block (centre) are being used to host lessons while school bosses wait for temporary classrooms to arrive
RAAC was used to construct public buildings between the 1950s and 1990s, and has a texture comparable to the inside of an Aero chocolate bar – as well as an estimated lifespan of 30 years
Schools closed today: Full list of RAAC concrete closures as new term begins
The plans came about in the space of just five days and the school itself is just a mile away from the venue – minimising headaches for school bosses as they continue to deal with the issues presented by RAAC, and for parents who had feared drastic upheaval.
Mr Twinley said: ‘Alison and I are very happy to help out when we heard about the children’s education being affected.
‘We both love to do things for our local community and this was the perfect opportunity to make a difference to these young lives.’
Parents have expressed their gratitude to the Twinleys for their act of generosity, which allows the children to be in a school environment four days each week.
One parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: ‘I think it’s amazing what the owners of Hatfield Place have done.
‘It’s been a worrying time for parents and children, and learning remotely is never easy.
‘My children have been so happy to be back in a school setting, especially seeing all their friends again.’
Headteacher Becky Black said: ‘My team and I are overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity demonstrated by Mr and Mrs Twinley.
‘I also want to acknowledge the hard work of the entire St Andrew’s team, but also that of the parents, governors, community members and Essex County Council who have rallied round to make the plans come together in less than 5 working days.
‘Seeing the children together, happy and learning in such beautiful surroundings has made the whole community smile again after what was a very uncertain and stressful start to the term.’
A collapsed RAAC roof at a Kent primary school. Hundreds of schools across the country were built with RAAC, and the material’s flaws have come home to roost
RAAC differs from traditional concrete in that it is bulked out with air instead of solid aggregate materials – making it cheap, but flimsy, and unsuitable for long-term use
A taped off section inside Parks Primary School in Leicester, which has been affected by the RAAC crisis. The sign reads: ‘This area is closed due to serious health and safety concerns – please do not enter’
Harrow Crown Court in London has closed for the forseeable after RAAC was discovered
Read more: Dozens more hospitals feared to be riddled with RAAC – as NHS rows back on target of eliminating crumbly concrete by 2035
Hospitals affected by the presenceof RAAC include James Paget Hospital in Norfolk (pictured)
More than 100 schools have been ordered to fully or partially close after RAAC was discovered in walls, floors or ceilings – but the Government has been hit with criticism for making the announcement just a few days before term was due to start.
Education secretary Gillian Keegan’s handling of the crisis has come in for particular scrutiny after she accused schools of not ‘get[ting] off their backsides’.
She was later caught on a hot microphone following an ITV interview bemoaning the fact she hadn’t been given credit for doing a ‘f****** good job’ responding to the crisis – prompting more stinging criticism from opponents.
However, the issue has become apparent in public buildings across the country – from schools to hospitals, prisons, courthouses and even the Houses of Parliament, where the crumbling concrete was discovered on Monday.
A hospital in Wales has been found using steel and timber props to support wards constructed using RAAC, in nightmarish scenes that NHS bosses say has been like ‘trying to rebuild an aeroplane while it’s in the air’.
Staff at Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, say it is ‘scary’ working in the wards beneath cracked ceilings made of the flimsy material, while the estates manager, Malcolm Arnold, said RAAC had the potential of ‘collapsing at any time’.
In England, 41 buildings across 23 NHS trusts have been identified as having RAAC, with seven hospitals using the material throughout their construction, while in Scotland 16 of the country’s 32 local authorities say they have found the material in around 40 schools.
RAAC was used extensively in UK public building projects between the 1950s and 1990s, beloved because of its short-term strength and low cost.
It is believed to have a lifetime of around 30 years before it starts to lose strength – but it is believed that some of the buildings it is used in are upwards of 50 years old.
Experts say some of the schools could be closed well into next year while mitigatory measures are prepared to deal with the concrete – whether in the form of reinforcement works in the schools or temporary classrooms being delivered.
Last month Harrow Crown Court in North West London was shut for the foreseeable future after RAAC was discovered while improvements were being carried out.
And the Ministry of Justice is investigating whether any prisons have been built with RAAC after it found the material in six buildings in the court system. Meanwhile the Ministry of Defence has been examining hundreds of barracks and training facilities.
A report by the Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures published in April 2020 urged its members to check as a ‘matter of urgency’ whether their buildings had the material.
The report said that RAAC was used ‘primarily’ in offices and schools but that it had also been found in a ‘wide range’ of other buildings in both the public and private sector.
It said concerns had been raised about the safety of RAAC roof planks as early as the 1990s and early 2000s.
John Major’s Conservative Government was said to be made aware of the issue in public buildings 1995 with the issue being raised once again with the school’s minister in 2018 after a roof of a school in Kent suddenly collapsed.
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