Full of memories, yes, but a school will always be more than just buildings…

Yours truly with former classmates from the group of students who left Holden Lane High in 1988.

Yours truly with former classmates from the group of students who left Holden Lane High in 1988.

On Friday night I was stood there giving a brief welcome to the 300 or so people lucky enough to have secured tickets to the sell-out 50th anniversary celebration at my old school.

As a few of my former classmates watched me squirm, I talked about the place first opening its doors five decades earlier for its first intake of 600 children.

Cheers unexpectedly erupted from the bottom corner of the room where my friends and I had sat through assembly countless times.

The class of ’63 were in the hall. That was when I realised just how significant an evening it was.

When I was first contacted by current headteacher John Patino a few months ago he wanted a bit of help publicising the fact that Holden Lane High was soon to be no more.

The place where yours truly spent five (mostly) happy years is soon to be bulldozed to make way for the new Excel Academy on the site.

A new name and a fresh start for the school and local communities.

This is because buildings that generations of youngsters from Sneyd Green, Milton, Norton, Brown Edge, Baddeley Green and Smallthorne came to know so well are, quite simply, no longer fit for purpose.

What began for me as a mission to spread the word about a demolition job inevitably turned into a trip down Memory Lane.

For me, it doesn’t matter how many years have passed, when I walk down the narrow corridors and climb the stairs I’m a teenager once again.

I still keep to the left and I fully expect to hear the unmistakable voice of history teacher Mr Ball informing some poor soul they’ve got lines or detention for running or not wearing their tie properly.

On Friday night yours truly and a few friends from the class of ’88 gathered for a final wander round the place.

We began our tour outside the old headmaster’s office (it wasn’t headteacher in my day) and moved on to class rooms we remembered by sight and sometimes smell.

Like the home economics room where I once produced a passable Victoria sponge and the metalwork room where I crafted something that was supposed to be a book end but vaguely resembled medieval torture equipment.

As we walked we talked, recalling teachers whose names are imprinted on our brains.

Music teacher Mr Baddeley who fought gamely to teach me to play the recorder and PE teacher Mr Gilson who was forced to stand out in the rain with a stop watch waiting for the class asthmatic (me) to complete the cross country course most lads ran in 20 minutes.

Not much has changed, in truth – even after a quarter of a century.

The mobile classrooms where children of the 1980s and 1990s will have spent much of their time are gone but, for the most part, the main concrete edifices from the original Sixties blueprint remain.

Many of our old teachers were there for this gathering – including former head Mr Gray who we treated to a sneaky gin and tonic and sat chatting with us for much of the evening.

Of course, my friends and I were just one year group from 50. A handful among thousands.

A glance around the room told you that pupils from the Seventies, Nineties and Noughties were also well represented.

Some people might just want to forget their school days but it seems that, for many, they evoke fond memories of friendships which can endure along with the towering personalities of teachers who left such an impression and often shaped the people we became.

Holden Lane High School has had a rough trot in recent years – with damning Ofsted reports and falling pupil rolls.

But the new headteacher and his team have a plan to breathe new life into what was once one of the largest schools in the Potteries.

The intake of September 2014 and beyond deserve the Excel Academy and the multi-million pound new facilities that come with it.

But, as Friday night proved once again, a school will always be more than just a group of buildings.

A school is the people who make the rules, walk the corridors, graffiti the toilets, sweat over exams, pick fights in the playground and make eyes at that unobtainable girl (or boy) during double maths.

Good luck to all those who follow in the footsteps of the class of ’88.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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