Church High’s Last Roses Stand Tall As A New Era Dawns, 19th August 2016

When I visited Tankerville on the afternoon of August 18th, one of the last shots I captured through the fence was the main entrance.    The red roses still standing tall to the right of the door had caught my eye.  Now that the hoardings had been removed, the garden in front of the building was revealed for the first time in a very long while.  This area of the site had acted as a workers’ thoroughfare.  Wooden sleepers had been laid across the grass and, as Giuseppe’s photo below shows, the damage to the garden was beyond repair.

Behind the hoardings, what had once been the front garden had become a sorry sight.

This area would be replanted in time, of course, but, in keeping with the modern feel of the refurbishment, in a more minimalist style: grasses, ferns and that kind of thing.  No more roses anymore.  I know I’ve used this image before, but as the new era was drawing nigh, forgive me for re-reminding you of the frontage at its prime.

newcastle high school for girlsI am very fond of roses.  I’ve never been much good at growing them – they need too much time and care – but my Nana and Grandad Chapman were.  I do remember some things they told me as a little girl.  I know rose bush suckers are a bad thing and have to be removed because they suck the majority of the nutrients necessary for good growth.  This only happens with cultivated grafted roses apparently, not the older types.  I wonder if there is an equivalent for a grafted school?  From childhood experience, I also learned that roses were lovely to look at but could be painful to pick.  Have you read Colleen McCullogh’s novel ‘The Thorn Birds’?  It was a blockbuster TV mini series a couple of years before I came to Church High.  Roses were a key motif in this tale of love and pain: ‘There’s one thing you’ve forgotten about your precious roses …. they’ve got nasty hooky thorns!’

The key scene from ABC’s 1983 TV series of ‘The Thorn Birds’ starring Richard Chamberlain: ‘But he that dares not grasp the thorn/Should never crave the rose.’ (Anne Bronte)

The book’s title relates to a Celtic legend, the premise being that ‘the best is only bought at the cost of great pain.’  The inference is biblical, of course.  When something hurts me badly, I do try to remember this.  The thing about life is that we don’t get the full picture as we live it.  We feel the ebb and flow of emotions, but can’t see the end result.  When I saw Giuseppe’s images of the old building interiors nearing completion on August 19th, I felt just such a mix of joy and sadness.  Happiness at the prospect of returning ‘home’ again soon, but the changes to spaces like the Hall caused – and still do cause – me pain.

A new era for the Church High Arts & Crafts beamed School Hall as a Common-room with Deli-bar is about to begin.

I know those of you who have now spent time in the refurbished building will be familiar with its new 21st Century interiors, but for the benefit of those further afield, Giuseppe can guide you through.  Inside the buildings in the week of the 19th, the deli kitchen had been constructed at the south end of the Hall and work was now underway on the stage area at the north end.  You may remember the stage had been extended into an arc at its west-facing point?  As in the plan below, the raised seating area was now being created.

Safety rails for the raised seating area of the new 6th Form Common Room were now in the process of being installed.

The same joinery firm who worked on the stage extension also created bespoke stairs for the room created under the eaves in the original NHS building’s south gable, most recently used as an office.

These bespoke steps and the joinery work on the staging are Giuseppe’s favourite modern additions to the Old building.

As staff, we had already seen the large interactive screens that were planned for every classroom in the school as a trial one had been in situ within the Brandling Campus for the last year.  Ordering these screens was the very last thing Steven Farrell did as IT Manager for NHSG before the management decided to restructure ICT Support.

Each screen is mounted within a Learning Wall. The doors of the cupboards either side of the screen serve as whiteboards.  Every classroom has been designed to exactly the same specification, whether it be situated in the New or Old building.

Learning Wall being installed in Room 18 of the Old building.
A fully-installed New building Learning Wall.

Giuseppe’s uploaded photos also made it clear that inside the New building the Science Labs and the Main Hall were all now complete.

A second floor Laboratory looking out onto the Roof Terrace.
The south-facing first floor corridor overlooking the Hall.
The retractable tiered seating has now been fitted in the Hall.

At Noon on August 15th, Giuseppe captured a shot through the old Staffroom side window of a large removal van pulling up outside the Old building Main Entrance.  The first batch of furniture had arrived.

The first delivery of furniture arrives on site.

Its load was clearly a big consignment of work table frames.  Above, stacked in the 6th Form Library, below in old Room 8.

The white (of course!) flat-pack furniture for the staff offices had also arrived. This office is destined for the Languages and Digital Literacy Faculty, aka the old Physics Prep Room.

Although virtually everything is white now (never, ever a favourite colour of mine, sadly), it IS still the same old building beneath it all.  And readers of this blog understand this more clearly than anyone.  While visitors to the Sixth Form Library on the top floor of the Old building will notice a strangely-configured, white desk-table-cum-cabinet structure, you will all know that, underneath that laminate casing, still lie the rough-hewn wooden bell-tower support beams.

Some things just plain refuse to ‘go-away’. The initial plan was to remove the vertical timbers discovered when the partition walls of the rooms under the eaves were torn down – until they turned out to be structural. None of the renovators knew the building once had a bell-tower. The idea was to use them as a desk.

After reading this post, you will also now know that – apart from the original stage which is still under the Common Room seating area – there is one very small area of the Old building which has been left as it was, totally unchanged.  How great is that!  It may be tiny and extremely hard to get into, but a part of Old Church High really has been enshrined forever, deep within the newly-renovated building.  If you move aside one of the portable white bookcases at the north end of the Sixth Form Library, where a small set of stairs used to be, very low down in the white wall behind it you will see a tiny little door.  Readers of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’ will know all about the parallel worlds that can lie behind such tiny, lockable doors in a wall.

The magic little door to the Old Church High.

Yes, a portion of the old roof-space with the only remaining king post truss is there even now, hidden away admittedly but still there for posterity.  A more imaginative architect might have considered putting a glass wall in place just there, but sadly that was not to be.

I loved this little eaves room in the Old building’s north gable roofline. Wouldn’t it have been glorious to have been able to admire it still through a modern glass partition wall?

I always try to look on the bright side of things and consider it a blessing of sorts that this little space at least has been kept intact.  I had guessed as much from my site visits, of course, but having it confirmed by Giuseppe, almost as a little photo-story, was lovely.  I didn’t need any more gifts after that, but it appeared Giuseppe had one more little present for me. You may recall his penchant for passing on any little archeo-finds the workforce came across.  Well, when I noticed two very unexpected images appear in his uploads, I kind of guessed what might next be finding its way eventually to me.

In the New Era, ‘Someone to watch over me’?

Ten Days till Handover: No More Peter Anymore, 18th August 2016

Despite having gained ‘permission’ to visit the site again over the summer break, once settled back into my home routine ‘over-the-water’, it seemed best to leave be for a while.  However hard-won the victory, I was tired, needed the rest, so listened to my body – for once.  Had I done so recently, I wouldn’t be in the state I’m in now, I know.  But my Mam used to say that “God’s timing is always right” so we shall just have to wait and see.  As it turned out, in the summer of 2016 the time at home was needed to say ‘goodbye’ to Sassy, my old-lady cat, a loyal companion for the previous 19 and a half years.  I spent some time in the Archives too, which was where I’d been on Thursday August 18th when I felt the urge to check on Tankerville.  It was a sunny afternoon and the site looked beautiful from afar, but as I got closer, all had changed.  The hoardings were down, the gates gone and, to the right, Peter’s cabin was now just a blue, metal box.

The site was ‘on the move’: clearly, no more Peter anymore.

Whilst the scenes of upheaval were a shock to the system, it was hardly surprising since the handover date was less than two weeks away.  The new building’s cladding looked super shiny in the sunlight and I assumed its interiors must have been fully completed by now.

The new build’s cladding shone brightly in the evening sun.

In close up, the panels now showed an interesting graduation of colour in keeping with how long each had been in place.  A bit of a mismatch at the moment, but eventually all would darken to bronze.

It’s now possible to see the architect’s design aim for the new build walls: tree trunks and sky-light.  Ring any bells ….?

Considering I’d been waiting two years for Tankerville to be brought back to life again, it was strange how mixed my feelings were that evening.  I’d become very fond of my knights-in-shining-armour within the work-force. The sense of camaraderie that had evolved over time had almost had a Church High feel to it.  Peter & Co were good, kind folk.  Salt of the earth.  They’d seen me laugh and seen me cry.  Listened to my sadnesses, shared the stories, absorbed some of the history.  My visits, and those of many others who came to the gates to watch, gave them a sense of being part of something special. The blog helped greatly there, of course.  From the architect who told me, “Oh we know this is the loved school …..” to the guy who commented, “If it’s the same outside, it’s still your building no matter what happens inside,” it always felt like we were all on the same side. The doors of the Church High building would soon be open once more and that was as it should be.  However, something else was going to be lost in the process.  Again.  But those red walls retain a lot.

Men were still at work on site, but no gate meant no gateman.

No big metal gate or teal green hoardings in place now meant my view of what was going on in the grounds was relatively unfettered, of course.  However, it didn’t feel half as much fun that way.  The best way I can think of to describe it is as if I had been in a long drawn-out game of tug-of-war but there was no longer anyone pulling on the other end of the rope.  I now think the tension on that metaphorical rope was actually the main thing keeping me going.  Now it was clear that the final groundworks were in full swing.  The paths were being laid, though I don’t know if Eddie ever returned.

Pathways were now being created between the old and new buildings bringing order to the ‘wilderness’. Plus a lamp post.

The habit for ‘snapping’ new features was so well-ingrained by then that even something as menial as a bicycle rack still caught the eye.  A year later on, I almost discarded the shot preparing photos for this post until it dawned on me that the rack had been placed in virtually the exact same spot as Church High’s 1927 bicycle shed.  Bicycling was, of course, really popular at that time and it was no doubt a great inconvenience to many when the shed was displaced to allow the building of the school’s first extension to create a Science Lab.  The 1927 plans in Tyne & Wear Archives show the bicycle shed top right.  The new rack is situated a little to the right again.  It’s amazing how many things have simply travelled full-circle with this merger.

Wood and Oakley architects’ plans of May 1927 (above) showing the position of an existing bicycle shed at Church High School, top right [Copyright: Tyne & Wear Archives]. The Wood and Oakley offices were then at 9, Eldon Square. The new bicycle rack (below) has been positioned against the outer wall of the 1927 extension at exactly the same spot.
My eye for irony hadn’t been lost either.  In some places the tree-protection fences (virtually the first things put in place on the site way back in 2015) were still in evidence, though clearly not where they could have been of any help to one little tree during the ‘last push.’  I guess that now made it two trees sadly lost in the process.

With tree-protection fencing now in place where there were no trees, this little tree sadly became victim to the ‘last push.’

Passing the old Church High side carpark gates on my way back to the Metro, I noticed that all of the colourful site workers cabins had also now gone.  A school yard once again, but strangely bereft of life.

The sad strangeness of things ‘in transition’.

Just as I was turning to go, a figure in reflective clothing suddenly came out of the side door and walked towards me.  As he opened the gates to speak to me, my thoughts turned to Peter once again.  But it wasn’t him, of course.  It was my old friend, Colin Gordon.  He told me that Peter was long gone, onto another job.  And a good job too.

Not ‘The Gateman’, but it was nice to see Colin Gordon again.

Yes, not all of my new friends had gone.  And Giuseppe was still there too, even if our contact was only via the photographs he was still uploading into the Cloud.  This was his view of the side yard.

Giuseppe’s shot of the Waites’ decamp from the side yard.

Despite the eerie silence of the site in the process of decamp that evening, an ex-Church High colleague driving down Tankerville Terrace at that time had described it as a veritable tumult of activity.  Giuseppe’s photographs show the grinding toil of the heavy groundworks going on during that week.  It looks noisy – and smelly too.

Waites’ building plans for the groundworks (plus bike rack!).

If this much frantic activity was going on in the grounds to ensure the handover deadline was met, one wonders what inside was like.

The front door may have been open, but the state of play inside could only be guessed at.

But the last words of this post must focus on Peter, to whom I owe a great deal.  As do you all.  I did eventually meet up with him again.  Only once.  His new job was in Scotland but he sent me a text when he was back in the area.  He met me at The Sage after the morning Prizegiving rehearsal in September 2016 and took me out for lunch.  Nothing fancy.  That wouldn’t have suited either of us.  But it does make me smile that we ended up at ‘The Centre for Life’.  So very Peter!  He told me all about his new job and what gave me the most pleasure was that he gained it simply for being Himself.  Unbeknownst to him, he’d been observed being reliable, cheerful, managing things with ease and, above all, having time for people.  His new employer wanted him for ‘who he was’.  This fact gives me hope.

Thank you, Peter Wilson, for your time & care.