Representation on the impact on the community of Abernyte of the proposed closure of Abernyte Primary School. (Perth & Kinross Council, Education and Children’s Services, PROPOSAL PAPER October 2018)
Submitted by Abernyte Community Interest Company (note 1 ) on behalf of the community.
This representation concentrates on the effect of the possible closure on the community and does not repeat the arguments made by the Parents Council against closure. The Community company as the representative body for the whole community, fully endorses all the arguments made by the Parents Council in seeking to avoid closure of the school .
- Abernyte is by no means untypical of many rural areas in eastern Lowland Scotland , it has a long history and over time has had to face many tests and endured. The transformation of farming, resulting in the freefall of population in many rural parishes affected both the school at Abernyte and the local community. Many villages became dormitories to the main towns in the area without community cohesion and a sense of belonging. The community of Abernyte in the past 50 years or so has fought hard to maintain cohesion and identity. It wants to remain a village based community, not a dormitory settlement.
- The three institutions underpinning the community were the Village Shop , which closed in 1988, the Parish Church which survives despite the general trend away from church attendance, and the Village School now under threat of closure.
- The sustainability and the spirit of the community has been maintained by the efforts of the people of Abernyte and the activities they promote in the community. The school plays a vital role as a hub for these activities and in addition the potential loss of the community’s access to and use of the buildings, grounds and facilities will have a very adverse impact on the sustainability of the community.
- The school is a real hub of community life which would either cease or be diminished by being required to move elsewhere.
- The school is the only remaining public building in the community.
- The loss of the school and the potential families will have a detrimental effect on the wider economy, the structure and cohesion of the community of Abernyte
- The closure may encourage families with school children to leave Abernyte or discourage young families from moving to Abernyte.
- Consultation -the pre consultation process has been unsatisfactory
- Options- Under occupancy has not been taken as an opportunity to reduce costs.
1.The school is a real hub of community life which would either cease or be diminished by being required to move elsewhere.
1.1 The school has been at the centre of village life since at least 1829 and the present building since 1906. ( see chapter 4 of “Abernyte, The Quiet Revolution” Note 2)
1.2 Recent usage,
- There is a very limited bus service to Abernyte (one bus in and out three times per week). Residents who do not own cars would find it particularly difficult to attend community events elsewhere if the school were to close.
- The community recently installed a defibrillator on the old school house . A training course run by Heartstart was held in the school and was well attended by residents, suitable floor space was essential to the demonstration and training.
- The school is used for the AGMs of the community company(formerly the Abernyte Heritage group) , these are serious planning sessions for the year ahead and normally attended by 25-30 residents. An informal supper normally follows.
- There is an annual lecture open to the public and the community. These lectures with guest speakers, have been held in Abernyte school for many years attracting audiences of over 30.
- The school is the meeting point for the annual parish walk, again attendance of around 25 is normal.
- The community Council, the young Farmers, also use the school.
- The Abernyte wine club has met in the school for over 25 years, it meets 9 times per annum, has a membership on excess of 60 and average attendances of 40.
- In the past three years The Abernyte Harvest Festival has been held in the school and the school playing field. Attendances are difficult to judge but estimates of 75 -100 visitors are appropriate. The Charitable donations resulting from the festivals support the importance of these events . In 2016 the community donated £ 2000 to Syrian relief, in 2017 £800 to Medicin Sans Frontiers, and in 2018 £1000 was donated to a charity providing toilets and fresh water to children in Cambodia.
- In years prior to the festival The Heritage Group held an annual BBQ fundraiser each autumn in the school.
- The school and the pupils organize and run a Community Café for local residents several times a year. This takes place in the school and is of particular benefit to the elderly and retired
- The whole community participates in these events and activities .
- The school is the only remaining public building in the community.
- There are frequent community meetings held in the school with attendances of 20 -50 residents. (see above )
- Many smaller gatherings are held in residents homes which could have been held in the school but the Council charging system has now made that un- economic. The Council has not followed the legislation requiring community use of the school for small rural communities.
- There will be a very negative impact on the sustainability of the community of Abernyte if access to the buildings and grounds were to be lost due to closure of the school.
- Some of the Community Assets (including tables , chairs and crockery) are stored at the school.
- The Abernyte church is not an appropriate alternative . Its location, size, atmosphere, lack of suitable toilets and kitchen ,and lack of storage space , are all against it. There is just a small area of open space without the fixed Victorian pews.
3.The loss of the school and the potential families will have a detrimental effect on the wider economy, the structure and cohesion of the community of Abernyte.
3.1 Abernyte has been described as a Model community by many visitors, its various activities and projects have demonstrated a level of cohesion and participation sadly lacking in many rural communities. Nearly all of these activities have involved the school as a base for meetings, the participation of the school children and staff, and use of the grounds and storage of community assets.
- Recent Community Achievements include
- Residents who are not parents assist and advise the parents and teachers with , cycling, gardening, games, sports and other activities.
- Collaboration by most of the community in writing and publishing the book “ Abernyte the Quiet Revolution” ( see note 2)
- Establishing, maintaining, and using the Millennium Walk, a walk and nature reserve used by residents and visitors,
- Establishing a Community Interest Company to take over from the Heritage Group, and to plan and facilitate village activities. All the formal meetings involving the community were held in the school.
- The annual Mary Young lecture series is held in the school.
- Abernyte has a very comprehensive web site, one of the first and best village sites in Perthshire.
- There is a village news e-mail service with over 100 customers
- The collective oil purchase scheme has 40 customers
- There is an ongoing project to establish a digital historic data base
- Other activities from tapestry, writing booklets,and electing committees , are all initiated by discussion at meetings in the school.
4.The closure may encourage families with school children to leave Abernyte or discourage young families from moving to Abernyte.
4.1 There are two complete family houses and one incomplete site ,some 50 metres from the school gates which have been unsold for nearly three years. It is believed that the threat of closure of the school is one factor influencing the marketability of the properties.
4.2 The Parents Council have evidence on the negative effects on families considering schooling.
- 5. CONSULTATION
The consultation with the Abernyte community has been superficial and lacked commitment to obtain the views of the residents, particularly those not connected to the parents council.
Three examples illustrate-
- Options paper para 3.2 states that the Abernyte Community Interest Company
(A CIC) owns the playing field. This is incorrect, it is privately owned, just about anyone in the village would have been able to correct that statement if asked.
- The church is not a suitable alternative for community use, we suspect no one from the Education department has visited the church to compare its facilities to those currently available at the school.
- No direct contact had been made with A CIC , it is not on the distribution list for the proposal paper, even though the proposal assumed they were the owner of the field used by the school and as such would have been an “interested party”. Abernyte CIC is on the distribution list of the Planning and Development service as a consultee on Local Development Plans so the Council is well aware of its activities and purpose.
- Para 12.7 states that the evidence indicates that there will be little effect on the sustainability of the community if the school were to close. What is that evidence? The fact that residents already travel to use other services does not support this statement.
- SCHOOL CAPACITY/OCCUPANCY
The Options Paper did not consider reducing the capacity of the school. Good practice in any asset management situation where there is surplus capacity is to attempt to reduce the capacity or use the surplus for other revenue raising activities.
- For the past ten years or more the school has never achieved the 60% minimum occupancy and yet the council has not considered reducing its capacity probably by closing one of the two classrooms.(in 2010 the school had 21 pupils, some 48% of the 44 capacity).
- The March 2016 School Estate Management Plan showed that 26 schools (29%) had less than 60% occupancy and 10 (12%) had less than 40%. Before embarking on new expenditure what steps were taken to try and utilise the surplus capacity in a revenue efficient way?
- In Abernyte we have never been made aware of any steps taken or given the opportunity to suggest any action to reduce the costs associated with the surplus space. The Community Empowerment Scotland Act 2015, gave new rights to communities to request local asset transfers from Councils. Had we been asked we could have developed business plans .
- Was any action taken in other communities where the local school was operating at low occupancy?
This representation has been made by the elected Directors of Abernyte Community Interest Company.
Signed on their behalf,
Malcolm McSwan, Company Secretary, Abernyte Community Interest Company
Latch House, Abernyte,PH14 9SU. (Registered Office)
NOTE 1. Abernyte CIC. The present community interest company resulted from the amalgamation of the Abernyte Heritage Group with the original community company to form one organization to promote the interests of the community. The heritage group dates from 1988 and its main meetings were held in the school. The present company is a company limited by guarantee and a registered community interest company (SC 301351}. It is managed by a board of directors elected at the annual general meeting held in the school. A majority of the residents of Abernyte are members.
NOTE 2. In 2008 the Abernyte Heritage Group worked with Dr Mary Young to research, write and publish the short book “ Abernyte,The Quiet Revolution “, published by Perth and Kinross Libraries & Lifelong Learning. This book has proved to be a valuable contribution to Scotlands twentieth century history and the changes in village life in rural lowland Scotland. Many members of the Community assisted with meetings in the school and researched school and other records.