Over two hundred people gathered in the car park at Freshbrook Church, Worsely Road at around 7.15pm on Wednesday 17 May to watch firefighters put out a huge blaze which destroyed part of the empty and increasingly derelict Windmill Hill Primary School.
The crowd was drawn by a blanket of smoke that enveloped the area. Some 30 fire and rescue crew with five appliances attended the site.
The temporary wooden building had been on site since September 1987 but closed in 2007 when Windmill Hill and Freshbrook Primary School amalgamated to form Millbrook Primary School. Millbrook operated in both buildings until July 2009 when children moved to a brand new school on the Freshbrook school site at Freshbrook Village Centre.
The empty structure would have been tinder dry. Vandals had caused increasing amounts of damage over the last 20 months and Freshbrook resident Brian O’Callaghan, whose home overlooks the site, said vandals had started a small fire in one of the storage sheds in the playground in early May.
Paul Jarmey, watch manager at Westlea Fire Station, described the scene when his crew arrived. “As we pulled around the corner we could see the thick black smoke and a good half of the building was engulfed in the fire.
“We recognised it was a derelict building and that no-one was inside so we adopted defensive tactics, meaning we did not commit to sending anybody in. It was a large blaze to the timber structure; the wooden roof trusses gave way under the weight of the roof and the building collapsed inwards on itself.
“We focused on making a block and stopping the fire from spreading. There were no dangerous substances, like asbestos, and we advised residents to lock their doors and windows. No-one was evacuated as the fence around the school made for a cordoned area.”
Parents and children from Millbrook Primary School visited the site on 18 May on their way home. Mum Kelly Sutton, 32, from Godolphin Close, Freshbrook, was a pupil at Windmill Hill Primary. She said, "I started at the school in its very first term when I was nine years old, after my parents moved to Swindon. It was a small, lovely, lovely, caring school. The smoke from the fire was horrendous; I’m so sad to see it destroyed in this way."
Photos from the scene above by Glenn Bauer
Kelly Sutton is pictured below with local children in front of the damaged building
Former deputy headteacher Lynn Harper who, with headteacher David Messenger, opened the school in 1981, said she had left her Freshbrook home to see where the smoke was coming from. "I thought it was somebody’s home but was horrified to see the school was alight. "It is such a shame to see it go up in flames. David will be devastated."
Mum Lesley Meredith served lunch at Windmill Hill when her four children attended the school. "It really is disgusting that its gone like this. The vandals who set it alight should be utterly ashamed and so should Swindon Council for not removing the building a long time ago."
Brian O’Callaghan said he was worried by the length of time the council has taken and might take to demolish the damaged structure. "It’s now an obvious target for arsonists who want to finish the job; the council should send in the demolition gang immediately."
A Swindon Council spokesman said the building was going to be torn down soon. “We were going through a procurement process for demolishing the building and since the fire we have made it safe and secure. We will accelerate this process and increase site security."
Anyone with any information on who was on the site on Wednesday late afternoon is asked to contact Swindon police on 0845 408 7000 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.