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Wensum: Fakenham writer Jim Harding discusses his disappointment in neglect of former grammar school site

In this week’s column, Fakenham writer Jim Harding discusses his disappointment in the neglect of a former grammar school…

For years now I’ve been in some despair at the state of the former grammar school site on Wells Road.

I pass that way regularly when I attend classes at the Sports Centre and its condition never fails to depress me.

A recent photo taken of the driveway of the former grammar school
A recent photo taken of the driveway of the former grammar school

Neglect doesn’t take long to dominate a place and the school which had such a major impact on so many lives is now a sad spectacle on the northern edge of the town.

The grounds used to be kept in very neat condition thanks to the attention they received and the tennis courts were enviable centres for the playing of grass-court tennis, the only ones locally available.

Now any grass on show is overgrown and untidy. I spent some years teaching P.E in Fakenham and counted myself fortunate to have found somewhere that seemed to me to be in some sort of time warp, a reminder from my viewpoint of my old school, Woking grammar, down to the south of London.

My appointment here was deemed temporary but the longer I survived along with the school, the more I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, this would go on for years to come.

It was a pipe dream, of course, and inevitably the old grammar was abandoned and following conjunction with the former Lancastrian school at the northern end of Field Lane a new school emerged.

Initially, the combination had its share of teething troubles. Both staff and pupils clung on to some sort of territorial factor so that having to change from one site to the other for lessons or teaching became a “moaning” issue which refused to go away.

With the appointment of a new head, Lee Muston, change was bound to follow and did so in no uncertain terms.

I recall with some clarity the dressing down that staff received along with the arrival of Mr Muston. He reminded us all in no uncertain terms that, regardless of the two sites, we were definitely one school and needed to pull together and set an example.

This did not happen overnight but thanks to his authority soon became a reality.

Fakenham Academy thus emerged and seems to have settled very well into an acknowledged place of learning. Former grammar teachers still clung to the thought that “their” school might continue to play a part in the whole scheme of things.

But the decline in its use and the closure of the swimming pool, such a vital amenity for both school and town, signalled otherwise. Rumours spread about what might happen to the place as it slowly marked time and was allowed to run down.

Little direct action took place and with the arrival of the new Duke of Lancaster school, built on former grammar school grounds, the thought that this special education needs centre might have occupied the old grammar site itself quickly faded away.

It’s taken years, but the latest moves indicate that the grounds will be leased out to the Duke of Lancaster school so that it can positively use them in ways to be determined to educate its own pupils.

My hope, although I’ve long been absent from the territory, is that both the buildings and the grounds will be given a new lease of life and begin again to play an important role not just for young people, but maybe the wider community.

Anyway, the neglect factor will surely be overcome. We shall see what happens over the coming months.

I have not lost my love of football but having played in and managed teams both here and in Australia I do despair somewhat at the behaviour of some senior players.

Just recently I watched a match in which two Premiership players were substituted by their manager and was amazed at the reaction of them both.

Their anger was directed at inanimate objects like seats and water bottles which they kind of assaulted as if they were partly to blame. Apart from anything else, these sportsmen are role models for the thousands of supporters, many of them young, who adore their achievements on the pitch.

It’s unlikely that the players will be sanctioned which leaves the impression that “bad behaviour” is somehow acceptable.

And does the pulling of an opponent’s shirt as he skips past you deserve more than just a yellow card? I think a red would put a stop to such cheating which I never recall being part of football until recent years. Just a thought.

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