Today the pupils of Damers First School have walked through the new school gates and the long awaited move from Damers Road has finally taken place.
It’s been an exciting time for both teachers and pupils and the new school in Poundbury is already proving popular with parents.
Headteacher Catherine Smith said: “This has been four years in the planning and now we’ve moved in it is suddenly real.”
She added that the school is already becoming oversubscribed for this September due to increased interest from new parents.
This week the 450 current pupils of Damers First School walked into their classrooms after the Easter half-term break.
Mrs Smith said: “It was great to see the reaction of the children as they come through into the school, and pleasing to see that we made the right choices in the design.”
Mrs Smith praised the architects and workmen from BAM for their dedication throughout the project.
The new school looks out across the Great Field and there are outdoor story reading areas, a forest school area, playground and a play field.
As well as brand-new learning spaces, the school will feature a music studio, a food technology room, two new school halls, a sensory room and a purpose-built base for children who have more complex needs.
Mrs Smith said they are delighted with the new spaces.
“Rooms such as the children’s food tech rooms are so important; I am a firm believer with food at the heart of everything.”
Mrs Smith welcomed the support from Poundbury’s residents and said she is looking forward to taking part in the community.
The new school will offer more places for children in a phased way, with pupil numbers expected to rise from 450 to 600 in the next five years. Staff numbers are also planned to increase from 70 to 90 in this time.
PHOTO SLIDESHOW: The interior of Damers First School on completion before Easter. Photos by BAM Construction (John Seaman Photography).
Damers School History
There’s a new chapter for the 62-year old Damers First School, now on the Great Field in Poundbury.
The former Damers School site on Damers Road, was opened in 1955 but became too small for purpose. After the children transferred to the new site, the school will be used by Dorset County Hospital.
Celebrating Poundbury went to visit Ellie Goodridge, assistant headteacher at Damers First School in the weeks before the big move.
Sat amidst the packing boxes, we discussed the history of Damers First School and pored over old photos and newspaper cuttings of more than 60 years of history.
In fact, the school ran a highly successful exhibition in March that invited past pupils and staff to help celebrate its history. The event turned up a treasure-trove of shared memories and memorabilia.
The school has had a colourful past from first opening its doors as Dorchester County Primary School in 1955 to a change of name in 1980 to Damers First School.
In 1955, it had the claim to fame of being the first co-educational school in Dorchester. It was also purpose built at a cost of £40,000, which is in contrast to the new school building of today that has an estimated cost of £10 million.
“The recent exhibition brought out many interesting stories and memories. For example, the first headmaster Mr Trewhella who was at the school from 1955 to 1964, was by all accounts a bit of a character. The popular teacher used to ask pupils to go and buy his pipe tobacco!”
It emerged that one of the most vivid memories in the history of the school was a large mural painted by local artist, Eric Morris. Commissioned by Dorset County Council for the new school, the memorable wall painting depicted a gory battle at Maiden Castle with Roman soldiers assaulting the hill fort.
Critics deemed the mural too violent for an under 11s school with scenes of garroting, spears, knives, wild dogs and blood. It even sparked a national debate that raged in the media of the time.
Headmaster William Trewhella defended the artwork and told newspapers, “It’s delightfully exciting. To say the children will be squeamish is fantastic. The critics have looked at the picture through adult’s eyes.”
The mural was eventually removed from the school in the 1980s, when it was decided that it was too frightening.
Ellie Goodridge added: “We’re not sure what happened to the mural, but it was taken down to make way for a door that exists today. We have a black and white picture of it and have appealed for any colour photos.”
The recent exhibition also saw past pupils bring in rare and slightly quirky memorabilia such as an ash tray that was produced to raise funds for the school swimming pool and a hat that was part of the old brown school uniform.
There was also a special moment when the school building on Damers Road was finally closed in April.
“Nick Worsley was the first pupil to walk through the school doors in 1955 and returns to turn-off the lights when the building is finally shut.”
PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Here’s a photo gallery put together Ellie Goodridge, assistant headteacher at Damers First School.