Bell tolls on school

PUBLISHED: 05:27 15 February 2007 | UPDATED: 10:10 31 May 2010

The Bell School, which will close in six months - Picture: Damien Bartlett

The Bell School, which will close in six months - Picture: Damien Bartlett

AFTER more than 25 years on its South Road site, The Bell School in Saffron Walden will close at the end of August. On Monday the Bell International s educational trust announced that it had bought residential educational premises in Kent and that the Saf

AFTER more than 25 years on its South Road site, The Bell School in Saffron Walden will close at the end of August.

On Monday the Bell International's educational trust announced that it had bought residential educational premises in Kent and that the Saffron Walden facility would be transferred to the new location.

The staff at the school were told that they would be able to transfer south to the new school or work in one of the Bell's existing schools in Cambridge and London.

The Bell School can accommodate up to 250 students and of the 150 or so who are currently being taught there, just three will transfer to Kent.

It teaches students from all over the world aged 16 and upwards, most of whom are in their early 20s.

Most learners at the college will be unaffected by the move as students at the school do not normally spend more than a couple of months there.

David Pottinger, Bell International chief executive, said: "It is with considerable regret that we have taken the decision to close Bell Saffron Walden, which has provided high-quality residential language training to our students for many years.

"However, we very much hope to retain as many staff as possible, by offering new positions at our other UK centres.

"For example, all permanent teachers at Saffron Walden will have the option to transfer to our Cambridge centre whilst our exciting new venture at Bedgebury will create lots of new opportunities for existing staff."

The Bell College in Saffron Walden employs around 80 people including catering staff.

There are eight full-time teachers and some members of staff live on the site.

The land and building that houses the Bell School is owned by the British Foreign Schools Society (BFSS), which built the property in two years from 1882.

It was used as a teacher training college until it was purchased by Bell International.

Charles Crawford, BFSS director, said: "We have been in negotiation with Bell for more than two years to give them a lease arrangement that they are happy with.

"We made them an offer a fortnight ago that was reasonable and fair, with rent significantly discounted from the market value.

"However, they have decided that they do not want to renew the lease and have not yet made it clear exactly why this is."

Will Kinsman, Bell International's director of sales and marketing, said: "The decision not to renew the lease was not taken lightly.

"We have been given the opportunity to purchase a freehold site in Kent that provides facilities the existing site is unable to offer.

"The new site is very attractive and will be a much better option for our students."

Mr Crawford said that the BFSS will now seek to lease the property, which comprises 34 classrooms, to a company that will continue to use the site for an educational purpose.

"We are going to start actively marketing for a similar usage of the property," he said.

"Some of the open land may be developed for a different purpose, but we are hoping that the main building can remain an educational facility."

Around four acres of the Bell School's site was sold off to developers a few years ago, leading to the construction of more than 50 houses on Peaslands Road.

Mr Crawford revealed that it is possible a further four-and-a-half acres of open land will also be sold, leaving just three-and-a-half acres of a site that 10 years ago was about 15 acres in size.

Mr Pottinger said: "We have very much enjoyed being an integral part of the Saffron Walden community for many years and I would like to take the opportunity to thank the townspeople - particularly our host families - for the warm welcome they have always bestowed on our students."

Mayor Hilary Shibata, who has taught English at the school in the past, said that its closure would be a big loss for the town.

"It's very sad - they're not only a big employer, but the people who stay there bring a lot to Saffron Walden too.

"The students give the town an international dimension, so it's a loss on a social level as well as an economic one.

"I also feel very sad for the staff - I know some of them have moved to the area recently and suddenly the rug's been pulled from under their feet, so my sympathy's for them.

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