Llandovery: Moving Primary School onto Site of Axed Comprehensive could Trigger Town Regeneration
Eleventh hour plan
Move Llandovery’s primary school, Ysgol Gynradd Rhys Prichard, onto the campus of the about-to-close comprehensive school, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn – that’s the 11th hour plan from the people of Llandovery to try and stem the tide of decline in their forgotten town.
This proposal must be developed quickly and energetically, a public meeting decided last night (November 12th 2015). Pantycelyn is due to close to its final pupils in February, and then the local education authority is expected to put the site up for sale.
Despite stormy weather, around 100 people congregated in Pantycelyn’s hall for a meeting led by Handel Davies, the chair of Llandovery Rugby Football Club.
The mood, as sombre as the persistent rain, lightened a little when those present gave universal support for developing a detailed proposal to put before Carmarthenshire County Council, the authority responsible for both schools.
Mark James: “good idea”
County councillor Ivor Jackson has already discussed the idea with Mark James, the county council’s chief executive, and reported that Mr James replied: “It seems a good idea. We never thought about it”. Mr James has offered to come to Llandovery and meet a delegation, Mr Jackson told the meeting.
Voices in the audience pointed out that the idea had been put to the county council in the past, but they chose not to consider it. Perhaps the plan did not reach Mr James’s desk.
Noel Jones, head teacher of Ysgol Rhys Prichard, said the move could transform the primary school into a real community school, which is not feasible on the present site next to the A483 road to Builth Wells. He lamented the decline of Llandovery into a town into which few people wanted to move and from which families wanted to exit. “I see us as a dying community in lots of ways,” he said. “Llandovery used to be a vibrant town, but not now.” Instead, services had been taken away and the town was marginalised.
Without a school on the Pantycelyn site it would not be possible to keep the hall in use, he said. Without a school, how long would the swimming pool stay open? (The pool loses over £100,000 a year already.)
Colossal financial pressures
Moving the primary school onto the Pantycelyn campus would keep the site in public ownership, available for a time when children over 11 may need to be educated there again. The replacement school 13 miles away in Ffairfach entails long journeys for pupils, expensive for taxpayers, and this, it can be argued, is discriminatory. The council’s plans to charge everyone aged 16-plus for all school transport is also discriminatory, especially when a school has been closed against the wishes of the community.
Huge financial questions hang over the proposed move, though. The Pantycelyn site is larger than the Rhys Prichard site, and so is more expensive to run. The 165 primary pupils are barely over half as many as the number in Pantycelyn when the closure decision was taken. And, said Noel Jones, the county’s head teachers have been told they must cut their school budgets by 16% over the next two years. For Ysgol Rhys Prichard, with an annual budget of £660,000, that is a cut to £554,400 — £105,600 less, when a move to the Pantycelyn site would inevitably increase some costs.
Potential to revitalise town
Llandovery used to have the town services required by people living in 200 or so square miles of north-east Carmarthenshire – surgery, hospital, state primary and comprehensive school, banks, a wide range of shops. Four full-time banks have declined to two part-time ones, shops are following the same trend, and the comprehensive school has been axed. Even the historic independent school, Llandovery College, has suffered from financial problems.
If the primary school occupied the Pantycelyn site, it could act as a magnet for families with young children. Surely they would seek out a primary school with a superb hall, a swimming pool, a games field, space for a garden? People moving in would benefit the town’s businesses and restore lost vibrancy.
If the site can be shared, the move has a much better chance of success. It could be possible to convert part of the buildings into offices for health service and social services staff, for example. There could be space for offices and workshops for new businesses, or for home businesses needing to grow, and thereby helping to regenerate the economy of the town.
So here’s hoping that the whole town gets behind Handel Davies and the committee set up to achieve the plan.