Photo Gallery: Dereham Church Infant School celebrates centenary

Inside the new Reflective Garden at Dereham Church Infant and Nursery School are The Bishop of Thetford Alan Winton with...

Inside the new Reflective Garden at Dereham Church Infant and Nursery School are The Bishop of Thetford Alan Winton with members of the school council. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

For 100 years a Dereham school has educated children in the shadow of the town's impressive Norman church of St Nicholas.

And after a special ceremony of dedication, children at Dereham Church Infant and Nursery now have a new place to reflect on the history of their surroundings and links with the church.

The Rt Rev Alan Winton, Bishop of Thetford, led a prayer in front of a new reflective garden that had been created in the school grounds to celebrate the centenary milestone.

The garden, created with wooden trellis and panels, was designed by the county council's landscape officer David Yates in collaboration with the school's headteacher Karen Gay and Peter Chambers, grounds service adviser from Norse.

Constructed in the same shape as the church, with an aisle, tower and even stained glass window effect made from perspex, Bishop Alan encouraged the children to use the space for quiet and gentle contemplation before spending some time with members of the school council, chatting with all of them in their new garden.

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He then joined past pupils, staff, governors and guests in the hall to dedicate a new stained glass window, depicting images relevant to the school's history – a deer for Dereham, the church and even a clock showing the time 20:13 to commemorate the year.

A display showing old photographs jogged many memories.

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Brother and sister Kenneth Reavey and Eileen Frary were pupils at the school nearly 60 years ago.

Their abiding memory was of the outside toilets. 'They were always frozen in the winter,' said Mr Reavey. 'I also remember grazing my knees on the asphalt playground. We only had the small area to the front of the school but the children here today have a lovely outside area at the back. We had a good lunch – it cost two-and-a-half pence in today's money.'

Mrs Frary remembered the coal fires in the classrooms as their only source of heat.

'They used to bring in the crates with the bottles of milk and stand them in front of the fire if they were frozen,' she said. 'They were happy days.'

David Webster, verger at St Nicholas' Church, remembered joining the school during the war years.

'I started in September 1943, so I probably had to bring my gas mask. I remember being in Mrs Large's class which was at the back of the hall and doing reading, writing and arithmetic.

'Apparently when I first started I sat in the corner and refused to speak to anyone for four days. I was the eldest child in my family so I had been quite spoilt.

'I do remember being given a piece of work to do and as I wrote my name my pencil broke just as I wrote the 'We' of my surname. By the time I got another pencil I had to go on to the questions so my name never got finished. The teacher held up my work and asked, 'Who is David We?'. I got called We for some time after that.'

Mr Webster said his children and grandchildren also attended the school, with two grandsons, Ewan and Corin, current pupils.

Earlier the whole school, parents, grandparents and younger siblings filled the church for a service of thanks for the school and everything it has done to support children and their families over the past 100 years.

Mrs Gay, who has been at the school for 10 years, said she was so proud to be part of its 100th year.

'It has been great to celebrate with the whole school family,' she said. 'It is great to have everyone here who cares about the school.

'It is in the centre of town and is an important part of Dereham's history. It started out as one building with three classrooms and 150 children and we have grown so much.

'We are now up to 220 children with our own nursery and early years unit.

'I have told the children that they are making history and to really celebrate their time here as they are part of one generation of the school community.'

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