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Fire at Duxford Primary School and preschool leaves staff 'devastated'



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Teachers at Duxford C of E Community Primary School have told of their devastation at watching flames destroy part of their building.

But they also spoke of being “humbled” by the community’s rapid response, with more than £17,400 raised as of yesterday to help fund the recovery effort.

Duxford Preschool was destroyed in Friday night’s fire, while the primary’s Key Stage 1 classrooms were left gutted.

Pippa Eccleston chair of the management committee at Duxford Preschool looking at the devastatiion to the preschool and reception classrooms. Picture: Keith Heppell. (39943069)
Pippa Eccleston chair of the management committee at Duxford Preschool looking at the devastatiion to the preschool and reception classrooms. Picture: Keith Heppell. (39943069)

The building is now unsafe and is being assessed, prompting warnings on Tuesday for people to keep away from the site.

Police are investigating the blaze but no arrests have been made and the force has urged the community not to speculate on the cause.

There were no injuries from the fire, but the pre-school - an independent, committee-run charity that has been in the village for 30 years - said it had “lost everything”.

Pippa Eccleston chair of the management committee at Duxford Pre-school looking at the devastation to the pre-school and reception classrooms. Picture: Keith Heppell. (39943093)
Pippa Eccleston chair of the management committee at Duxford Pre-school looking at the devastation to the pre-school and reception classrooms. Picture: Keith Heppell. (39943093)

Its manager, Pippa Eccleston, said: “All the staff and everyone involved with Duxford Preschool are devastated that our lovely village pre-school has been totally destroyed.

“We watched the fire consume the whole of our business and leave only the shell, which is deemed structurally unsafe and must be demolished.”

“We have lost everything – all our resources and play equipment for the children, all our furniture and storage, our office/staff room with all our equipment and storage there; our lovely, well-equipped little kitchenette where we prepared the children’s food….everything.

The damage caused by the fire at Duxford Primary School (39943163)
The damage caused by the fire at Duxford Primary School (39943163)

“No matter how big or small, every little thing, whether homemade, donated, found or created has gone.

“The magic and wonder of everything provided for the children has been lost.”

She added: “We are still in shock at this senseless tragedy for us and the village as a whole and we are putting our minds and hearts to how we will rise as a stronger and more precious setting.

The fire at Duxford C of E Community Primary School on July 31, 2020 (39943116)
The fire at Duxford C of E Community Primary School on July 31, 2020 (39943116)

“The staff are what makes a place for children and we will be working very hard to ensure the village keeps a fabulous not-for-profit facility for future generations.

“We have been deeply touched by all the messages of support and offers of help that we have received from our local community and further afield.”

The JustGiving page set up by clerk of governors, Helen Andrews, aims to help the pre-school, the primary and the DX Club, a parent-run registered childcare provider providing wraparound care.

The fire at Duxford Community Primary School. Picture: Gillian Heath (39943126)
The fire at Duxford Community Primary School. Picture: Gillian Heath (39943126)

Pippa said: “It has been humbling and very moving to see the response.”

The primary’s headteacher, Suzanne Blackburne-Maze, said: “We are simply devastated by what has happened here at our school.

“This year has been particularly tough already, and I know my staff, our parents and our children will feel this deeply – but we are determined to work through it and to bring back the school that we love. The buildings may be different, but one thing that will always remain is the sense of community that surrounds our school.

“I know I speak on behalf of my colleagues when I say we are incredibly humbled by the show of support we have received from parents, our residents and our neighbouring schools.

“The local community have really galvanised and in these days of great difficulty they are bringing comfort, and hope.”

The alarm was raised at 8.26pm on Friday night. About 50 firefighters battled the blaze at the St John’s Street school, with the last crew leaving at 5.30am on Saturday.

Crews from Cambridge, Gamlingay, Huntingdon and Ramsey, along with firefighters from Saffron Walden in Essex, Newmarket in Suffolk, and from Royston and Baldock in Hertfordshire attended the incident, along with police.

Sgt Emma Hilson, from the neighbourhood policing team, said: “The loss of part of the school and the pre-school is naturally devastating for the Duxford community and the surrounding area.

“We have been working closely with the school, Duxford community and the fire service to build a picture of the events of Friday evening and investigations are continuing.

“We are very aware of numerous rumours that are circulating within the community at present. We would politely ask people not to speculate on the cause of the fire, but to direct any information to us through our normal reporting channels.

“We would like to urge parents to ensure their children remain away from the site and do not trespass onto the property. The building structure has not been fully assessed and the site is closed for safety reasons. The community will see an increased police presence as a result of this.

“This is a devastating loss to the community especially for the children and teachers. Our thoughts go out to anyone that may have been affected and we will continue working alongside the school and the local authority to support them as they move closer to the new school year.”

Cambridgeshire County Council said it was now working with the school to make plans for next term, although details have yet to be released.

Jonathan Lewis, director of education for the council, said: ”We have immediately started having the necessary conversations and are putting plans in place to help the school and its early years provision recover from this situation, so it can once again provide a pivotal role in supporting local children and the local community. We will do everything we can to help the school come back stronger.”

Cllr Simon Bywater, chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s children's and young people’s committee, added: “Our hearts go out to everyone linked to the school and the surrounding area. It is a tragic event, but I know the right people are having the right conversations to get things moving quickly. In line with their motto, the school will fly again.”

And Cllr Peter McDonald, the county and district councillor representing Duxford, said: “The school building is 60 years old and the hard work of parents and staff in pre-school and reception was undone in around two hours.

"Having said that, the response from the community in supporting the school is awesome.

“I’m sure the county, the community and the school will overcome this event, and will work hard collectively to see children return safely as soon as possible.”

Visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/rebuildduxfordschool to donate.

Anyone who saw any suspicious activity, or has any information, is urged to contact police via its web-chat service or by calling 101 quoting investigation number 35/51082/20.