With vandals on one side and the elements on the other, Western Park School – formerly Western Park Open Air School – has taken a bit of a kicking in recent years.
Shut in 2005, this elegant 1930s building – Grade II listed and one of very few of its kind remaining – sits on the edge of this well-loved Leicester park, in a sprawling open setting surrounded by trees.
In its day it must have been a magical place for the tight-chested kids of smog-filled Leicester. Back then Leicester was a chimney-pocked powerhouse and the richest city in Europe.
With their lessons held outside, or in reach of clean, tree-exhaled oxygen, this green and leafy seat of education was the best sort of hospital for little people. Even when it closed a decade ago, it was still working its spell on children with disabilities and special educational needs.
Today, on a gently drizzly Thursday, October 29, 2015, the blokes behind Western Park Beer Festival are here in the school grounds. Joining them are local councillors and city council officials, who are leading an external wander around its buildings. Me, I’m here too.
Why? Well, lots of reasons. Anyone who lives in Western Park – in fact, anyone who knows the school – understands just what a special place it is. If you can imagine a tree-hidden Hogwarts (With Art Deco and Arts and Crafts sympathies), you would know why it hurts to see another slab of plywood go over its windows, or another visit from the fire service in the middle of the night because morons have set fire to its buildings.
From Thursday’s pootle, it’s clear the potential of the place is staggering, but so too the job of bringing it up to scratch. The elements and the undesirables have done a sterling job between them.
The beer boys had the idea of starting a community pub and brewery within the school, while still using it as an educational resource. Parents of the nearby and oversubscribed Dovelands Primary School, in Hinckley Road, would also tell you they badly need more room and green spaces.
However, it’s not all doom and gloomy gloom. With a little bit of imagination, a grant, support from English Heritage, and some community elbow grease, there is hope yet. It’s just there is a clock ticking on its preservation, as you can see from the pictures below.