Fresh bid to bring back special education at St Christopher’s

A new bid has been launched to bring back Special Educational Needs teaching at the former St Christopher’s School site in Westbury Park.

Families, community groups and politicians in Westbury Park have joined forces to apply for the site to be designated an Asset of Community Value.

They say it would protect the site from over-development – after Bristol City Council turned down plans for 116 apartments on the site last summer.  And they want future plans to include a return to SEND provision.

Julie Owen, whose daughter, Angharad spent nine happy years at the school said  the legacy of St Christopher’s must be officially recognised as it helped so many people from across Bristol for so many years.

Angharad, 35, has Rett syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, and attended the school in Westbury Park between 1998 and 2007. Her mother believes the care and education Angharad received at St Christopher’s allowed her to flourish. She now lives independently in a flat in Downend, cared for by her mum and brother.

Julie said: “It’s crying out to be another special school – there is an opportunity there and the council should grab it because this could help meet the needs of all those children who don’t have a place. 

“There’s just so much potential on that site and so many things it could be – whether it’s a respite centre or a day school. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be thrown away.”

She, along with other families and former staff and carers, have joined local campaigners, the St Christophers Action Network (SCAN), which is co-ordinating the bid.

Westbury Park Community Association, which was instrumental in opposing the development, supports the application saying: “It is aimed at bringing back provision for children with special educational needs to at least part of the St. Christopher’s site, a use that has benefitted the community over many years.”

Other backers include Bristol North West MP Darren Jones who says the idea has widespread support.

“Given the careful work that has gone into the preparation of this bid – and the wide support in the community for efforts to make sure the ST Christopher’s site furthers social wellbeing in the future, I fully expect the council to approve this bid.” 

The bid also has cross party support from councillors from across the city as well as the community in Westbury Park.

Peter Lord, founder of Aardman Animations, lives near the school. Aardman was involved in fundraising for the school over many years. 

He said: “As a near neighbour of St Christophers School, I am very aware of how valuable it was for children and parents alike within the Bristol Community. And speaking as co-founder of Aardman, I’m proud that we engaged in fundraising and promotional activities for that splendid institution.

“Now it’s clear to me that the ACV project would be the best and most forward-looking outcome for Bristol and the local community and I’m totally behind it.”

The SEND Alliance for St Christophers has submitted a 40-page document of with evidence claiming the site benefitted Bristol for 70 years and could do so again.

As The Voice went to print members were due to address a Full Council meeting to outline their case.  

If accepted as an ACV, any future planning decisions would have to take into account the need to use part of the site for community use. BCC is expected to make a decision later this year.