New life for aged school

CELIA WIGG A former village school that was left neglected and crumbling for decades is back in the spotlight - as a prime contender for major restoration on a national TV show.

CELIA WIGG

A former village school that was left neglected and crumbling for decades is back in the spotlight - as a prime contender for major restoration on a national TV show.

The old Pennoyer's school at Pulham St Mary, near Harleston, will be vying for the public vote to help secure its future in BBC2's new series “Restoration Village.”

Now boarded up and forlorn, Pennoyer's school closed its doors to pupils for the last time in 1988. Since then residents have been trying to find a community use for the Grade II building which includes a rare 14th century chapel.

The tide has recently turned in the locals' favour and they are now working to make Pennoyer's into a village centre, combining traditional community hall facilities with areas for educational and business activities.

The BBC2 programme - presented by Griff Rhys Jones - will focus on the school and 20 other buildings around the UK that have previously been historically important to a local rural community.

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Pennoyers will be competing against All Saints Church, Beckingham in Lincolnshire and Chedham's Yard at Wellesbourne in Warwickshire on August 11 for a place in the grand final.

And project spokesman, Sheila King is urging viewers to put them top of the poll.

She said: “It's great for us to be involved in the series and if we win it means the majority of our funding would be sorted out. We would get a considerable amount of money, although it wouldn't pay for fitting it out as an education and recreation centre.

“The work will be really expensive as it's such an old building. Because it's got stone masonry and flints, renovation has to be done to the highest standard and, of course, it has been derelict for 18 years.”

Originally relocated from Pulham St Mary church in 1401, the guild chapel became the village school in 1670 thanks to William Pennoyer, a wealthy puritan who also endowed Harvard University in America.

Victorians extended the school, but the walls, buttresses and windows of the chapel remain and there is also a Gothic arch doorway with carved Tudor roses.

“What we would probably like to do is take down the existing entrance porch and put in a new two storey entrance lobby that would give access to a new mezzanine floor. By converting the building we can have conference rooms, a recording room, and internet access with PCs,” added Mrs King.

The school is on the county's buildings at risk register and it was South Norfolk Council that suggested to BBC2 it would be an ideal candidate for the latest in the Restoration series.

BBC 2's Restoration Village roadshow will be visiting Pulham St Mary on Sunday, August 13. More details will be available of the website bbc.co.uk/restoration

Buildings at risk - see pages 24-25