Hazelbury Road Open Air School reminiscences pg14

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Peter M. (1937-1939): When I first went to visit the site in 1957 I found the massive great county school had been built in front of it which was just an empty field when I left in April 1939.

Tony (1952-1954): One day off from work years later in the late 60's or early 70's I wandered down to Hazelbury school, walking down that long driveway (which, like the field, seemed to have shrunk), and onto the school grounds. The hall where we ate was filled with kitchen equipment, and I wondered whether it had been turned into some sort of technical and further-education establishment, but never found out (it was the school holidays; there was no one to ask, and I didn't want to risk being taken as a trespasser by exploring too far!).

In April 2013, while on vacation in the UK, I decided to take another look. It was a bit of a surprise when I got there since I couldn't initially get into the school grounds. I'd walked in off Westerham Avenue (photo 1) down the drive that leads along past the entrances to the infants school and the junior school (photo 2). They were still there and very well attended by the look of them.

Click on a photo to see a larger version with explanatory text.

The Open Air School Today

Jeff (1948-1953): Once again, here is the layout of the school as I remember it.

And here is what it looks like today using Google satellite view:

But then I came up against a shiny (and no doubt very expensive) stainless steel set of electronic gates barring further passage to the Open Air School which is now called West Lea School. While I was contemplating pressing the security buzzer a staff member on his way out let me in via the smaller pedestrian gate, the larger gate being for the coaches. As I got to the the building entrance (photo 3), I could see a similar gate way down the other drive that the coaches used to come in down off Haselbury Road (photo 4). I wondered what sort of place it had now become!

When I went into the office I found similar levels of security and, seeing some of the kids, immediately worked out why; it seemed that the school is still "special", but in a different way. It is now serves children aged four to nineteen years who have learning difficulties, physical ones, and behavioural problems. The security would be because of the last, I presume. I explained to the receptionist who I was and that I wanted to take some pictures of the school buildings, especially the old ones, but she said I could not proceed beyond the reception as the children were there. I thought of telling her that I'd worked with intellectually disabled adults in community, institution, and forensic settings and that I doubted I'd encounter anything at the school I couldn't deal with, but of course it's their responsibility and I didn't press the matter. However she did give me the very informative standard brochure that they hand out to parents so I'll  provide some information from that.

The school describes itself as a "specialist sports college" (which seems to be a politically correct move to disguise its real purpose), catering to children "with a wide variety of needs", and providing also hospital and outreach services. Before I emigrated, I ran, for the Enfield Council, a pre-vocational training and assessment centre in Carterhatch Lane for intellectually disabled young adults, and it's no surprise to see from the brochure that Chase Farm Hospital still has its specialist units for such children.

According to the brochure there are now "ten classrooms with rooms for Science, Food Technology and Art and, in addition, a Library, Gymnasium and a medical suite". Little doubt, I think, what occupies that area near classes 2 and 3 that we knew! Staff numbers are well over 50. The brochure indicates that the school is very professionally run. As you would imagine, it has a well-developed behaviour-management and exclusion policy. It does not say how long it has been West Lea School, but possibly it was the "Food Technology Hall" converted from our dining room that I'd seen years ago when I went back in the late 60's or early 70's. One thing's for sure - there are a hell of a lot of additional buildings and alterations to existing ones! Unfortunately the brochure does not include any site maps or pictures of the buildings. The brochure does not mention the school's original role, but does say it has existed for over 70 years - enough to make one feel old!

On the way back out past the two other schools there is a roundabout (photo 5). I don't recall it being there years ago (and I'd walk in this way on my visits from where I lived), but it indicates how much traffic there is now. I don't recall any of the teachers having cars then, though they might have had.

Being unable to get into the school proper I thought I'd try and get a photo across the field from the other side. There used to be a gap between the houses at one point in Westerham Avenue through which one could walk up to the boundary fence and see right across to the school, but it is no longer there; it is filled, presumably, by a house! So I had to be content with the five photos from the outside.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 4

Photo 3

Photo 5

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