Wensum, by Jim Harding, Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Highfield House, currently the home of Fakenham Sixth Form Centre.
Highfield House, currently the home of Fakenham Sixth Form Centre.

Highfield House, currently the home of Fakenham Sixth Form Centre.

My mind goes back to 1979 when I was appointed as a temporary teacher at the former grammar school, which then occupied Highfield House – built in 1828 – where the present college resides.

As a stranger in town, I felt as if I’d entered a time warp. The main tree-lined driveway up to the entrance overlooked six grass tennis courts, while rose bushes fronted the school door.

For my interview, the head greeted me wearing a flowing black gown just like the ones worn by teachers at my own grammar school in Woking.

Everything about the place was small-scale. The old assembly hall, which doubled as a gym, could fit the entire student population inside.

Highfield House itself was a warren of tiny rooms, some reached by winding stairways. It still is.

The staff numbered only around 25 and the place seemed to run itself like clockwork.

Within a few years, this anomaly came to an end with the creation of an expansive high school, combining the grammar with the secondary modern.

Now it appears the town must bid farewell to Highfield House as part of this equation and as an ever-present source of education hereabouts since 1923.

What will happen to the whole complex is, at the moment, anyone’s guess.

The site is owned by Norfolk County Council, so we must presume that discussions as to its future use are ongoing.

To prepare for the new Fakenham sixth form regime, money will be invested in the Perowne building in Field Lane and the senior students will occupy their own space, which will include a separate canteen.

While I do wish this step every success, there must be concern about provision for a growing Fakenham population.

Plans have already been approved for a major housing development between Rudham Stile Lane and the northern bypass. This is all within the immediate neighbourhood of the school.

Rather than downsizing, the opposite might be required in the years to come.

It’s a couple of months since the 16th annual Christmas Tree Festival took place in the parish church.

Year by year, this event has drawn thousands of people to the town and enabled dozens of charities to raise significant funds via donations to their decorated trees.

With all the figures now available, it’s wonderful to know that more than £17,000 was collected by the 53 participating groups.

The church itself benefited to the tune of more than £15,000 through the sale of refreshments, stall items, a tombola and a raffle, plus generous donations.

The amount of voluntary commitment that goes into organising such an event is immense, so it’s always nice when thankyou letters are received.

Macmillan Cancer Support, which raised an amazing £784, congratulated the church on its smooth running of the festival, while the North Norfolk Diabetes UK group raised £432.75.

There has always been a feel good factor about this event, which has now become synonymous with the town. It’s good to know that plans for this year’s festival are already well in hand.