New School Proposals

Over the last few years, the School has gone through quite a transformation. Rachel Green, Jane Mallon and all the school staff have worked tirelessly and have seen massive improvements resulting in a Good Ofsted rating and the School joining the Tenax Academy.

Unfortunately the school buildings continue to deteriorate. Built over 50 years ago, despite ongoing maintenance, they are now in need of major renovation. Some tactical painting and re carpeting has kept the internal appearance attractive but there are insufficient funds for the larger projects like rebuilding the dining hall, re-cladding the outside of the School and replacing the roof - just some of the areas identified by professional surveyors.

The Governors are not prepared to sit back and watch further deterioration happen, which is why the future of the School has been high on the village agenda in recent years as we explore our options. It is the Governors’ firm belief that the only viable option is to sell the existing school site for housing to finance a new school building on another site in the Parish.
There are a vast number of considerations and hence our plans are still far from finalised. In light of the ongoing Neighbourhood Plan work and a recent positioning statement from the Parish Council, we now feel it is time to share where we are with the wider community.

Any potential housing development of the necessary size is likely to be contentious. With this in mind and in order to understand village sentiment, the School was very active in the Parish Plan activity a few years ago and has been contributing to the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group. First of all, the preferred site is in the valley opposite the current school - known to many as ‘The Old Cherry Orchard’.

Advisors, Planning Consultant and a local architect have been taken on board. For governance a community interest company (Brenchley 21 CIC) has been set up and a grant of £50,000 has been obtained to fund initial feasibility, analyse costs and legal issues and create a high level conceptual design.
Estimates show that between 40 and 50 houses would be needed to fund the school rebuild. Taking on board feedback from recent surveys requesting improved housing mix, the design stipulates predominantly 2, 3 and 4 bed units – suitable for singles, couples and families, with many deliberatly targeted as retirement properties.

Green and eco friendly are the watch words of the scheme. The houses would be designed to be ‘traditional Kent’, in keeping with the village, but highly energy efficient, with the latest in green energy technology employed.

This is a project about community sustainability. It is probable that event surplus funds could be generated either from ongoing energy generation, housing rental or building margins. These funds could be made available for future community projects such as traffic calming, community spaces, charitable causes, or new/improved footpaths and pavements.

For the School the easy way forward would be to hand this over entirely to a developer, ask them to get planning permission and simply build us a new school in exchange for the land. However this approach would fail to realise the ongoing financial returns to the village and a stake in its ongoing evolution. The Governors and Church Trust who own the School land do not want to lose the opportunity now in front of the village - by selling out to developers. We will therefore be shortly launching a prospectus asking for local investors to help fund us through planning later this year and then after that looking for a partner or financial backer to work with for the development phase.

We believe this is a unique opportunity for Brenchley and Matfield, to have a superb new school and new housing designed for and by the community, bringing young families into the Parish and building new facilities for the village. The artwork in this article shows the initial scheme and design concepts. Preserved Wealden vistas, use of topology to hide building mass, new traffic flows and parking, and carefully mixed styles to create housing neighbourhoods to name a few features.

Now is the time for the community to align its support and get involved, whether that’s by joining the Community Interest Company, or by helping with the funding or perhaps both.
This is a matter of when, there is no alternative funding source to maintain a school in the village, short of a very rich benefactor, so please support this opportunity to help shape the future of the Parish and protect the education of our children for the next 50 years.

Andrew Cunningham
Chairman of Governors
Brenchley & Matfield School

A plan of the proposed new school is below. Please click on the image to make it larger.