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New era for Gissing Old School

PUBLISHED: 12:10 20 August 2010 | UPDATED: 09:20 16 September 2010

Villagers have unveiled ambitious plans to turn a Victorian school building into a modern community centre - more than 30 years after it was shut by education chiefs.

VILLAGERS have unveiled ambitious plans to turn a Victorian school building into a modern community centre - more than 30 years after it was shut by education chiefs.

The 19th century red-brick building in the centre of Gissing, near Diss, was last used as a county primary school in 1978 after being closed because of dwindling pupil numbers.

But local residents, who have turned the site into a pre-school, children's centre and meeting place, are looking forward to a new era after drawing up extension plans.

Since 1982, villagers have leased the Old School off Norfolk County Council. But the building is set to have a new owner in the near future after the county council agreed to hand over the deeds to the Heart of Gissing charity, which will look to improve the services provided at the children's centre that also hosts a parent and toddler group, youth club, dance classes, holiday play scheme and gardening and reading clubs.

Volunteers from the village group are waiting for the go-ahead from the Charity Commission to finalise the new ownership of the Victorian school - built in 1876 - before submitting a planning application to extend the building next to the Crown Inn, in Lower Street.

Rose Eddington, chairman of the Heart of Gissing, said the charity had been waiting seven years for Norfolk County Council to agree to the transfer. She added that some of the centre's services had been moved to the village hall because it was over capacity.

“The building is bursting at the seams. We have a totally vibrant village project going on that people really love and we just need the space to do it,” she said.

The charity has also begun fundraising to pay for the refurbishment of the Old School and modern extension.

“It is not going to be a massive extension, but it will be big enough for a state-of-the-art dance studio and meeting room for social use. We would like to get more support services for older people in the village because the only other facility we have in Gissing is the pub,” she said.

Julie Botwright, chairman of the Gissing Children's Centre, added that the change of ownership and extension would help secure the long-term future of the pre-school, which teaches 24 children, and help broaden its curriculum.

A 1940s-themed village fete is taking place between 1.30pm and 5.30pm on Sunday August 29 at the Old School to raise funds for the project.

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