Community celebrates Portsmouth institution that has transformed lives as it prepares for merger

THE community came together to celebrate a highly regarded Portsmouth institution that has transformed lives.

Sunday, 30th June 2019, 1:59 pm
Updated Monday, 1st July 2019, 6:23 pm
Headteacher Maggie Dunford. Picture: Vernon Nash (290619-009)

The Willows Centre for Children marked its 45-year anniversary with a fun-filled open air party as the learning difficulties school prepares to merge with Cliffdale Primary Academy next door.

Staff and children, dressed for a circus theme, danced and sang as pupils past and present joined in the celebrations.

After opening as a nursery in 1974 for children with special needs, the school has evolved to become much more over the years with it hosting outreach groups, activities and holiday clubs.

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SEN Assistant Tracy Fenton with Aaron Fitzgerald and Leah Lloyd of Princess Party Entertainment. Picture: Vernon Nash (290619-002)

Headteacher Margaret Dunford said: ‘Today is a celebration of of the success of Willows over the years and to mark the anniversary as we prepare to merge with Cliffdale.

‘It’s been great having family and friends come and have fun, as well as share their memories of an amazing school as it moves into a positive future.’

There was fun for all the family with a range of fun activities including hula hoop, singing, dancing, juggling, magic and plate spinning.

Magician Dave Bonney, whose disabled son went to the school, entertained the crowds with his repertoire of tricks. He said: ‘It’s been a fun day with lots going on. The school really helped my son so it is nice to celebrate it.’

Kieran James, left, running the sweet stall with Oliver, seven, Jessica, four, and mum Noom Mason. Picture: Vernon Nash (290619-006)

Anne Swan, who was headteacher between 1986 and 2007, said: ‘It is a sad day but it is nice to see so many who used to come here. The school has done a lot of good work to help people with special needs improve – with many going into mainstream schools. I bumped into one former pupil recently who had a language impairment but was now studying his doctorate at the University of Durham.’

The excellence of the school even saw it recognised by former prime minister Tony Blair with Ms Swan attending Downing Street after it received top marks from Ofsted.

The former head said: ‘The school has transformed a lot of lives and is the only school in Portsmouth never to fail an Ofsted report – with it often receiving very high scores.’

The party Picture: Vernon Nash (290619-004)