School’s astonishing secret past revealed following Council refurbishment

The Pavilion is vibrant with vivid oranges, sunny yellows and lime greens; herringbone parquet flooring, six decades old, has been exposed and restored; and original 60s’ timber ceiling cladding and 70s’ glasswork have been recovered and revealed.

It’s a nod to and a resurrection of the buildings’ mid-century past – and its best-kept secret. For, the school – almost entirely forgotten until now – boasts an incredible pioneering past. 

Built in the early 70s, The Pavilion’s western block – then known as The Special Care Unit – is an early example of the work from the practice of one of the world’s greatest modernist architects, Norman Foster, best known for designing the Gherkin, in the City, and the Millau Viaduct – the world’s tallest bridge – in France.

 In 1972, the Spastics Society – now Scope – engaged Foster Associates in designing an experimental school for young disabled children. It followed legislative changes that saw, for the first time, disabled children approached through an education – rather than just a medical – lens. 

The lead architect was Wendy Foster, Norman’s forward-thinking first wife. Her design and ethos – in pleasing symmetry to its use now – was actively child- and disability-centred: a flexible, open plan arrangement, around a ‘core’, which supported all the services. 

Her building was modest in scale but considerable in ambition – and it became an exemplar that was replicated across the country. 

Tim Walder, Principal Conservation and Design Officer for the Council, who is nominating the building for local listing, said: “Wendy Foster’s architecture was lightweight, deeply thoughtful, original and elegant. The building has a pioneering place in the history of the education of children with special needs and is still readable as a thoughtful and compassionate response to the needs of severely disabled children and is one of the first purpose-built examples in the country.”

Architect Andy Gollifer led the modern restoration, which was completed in February. He said: “We were very excited about the origins of the building and its heritage value. It was an important building at the time – [glam rock band] Slade even played at its opening. We tried to preserve as much of the original detail as we could to make the space bright and simple.”

Today, the Pavilion, like its groundbreaking predecessor, provides a bespoke education experience, with not only a specialist curriculum but purpose-built rooms to prepare its young people, on the crest of adulthood, for life beyond school, including a training cafe and an independent living flat. There is a fully-functional events space, which will be hired out to local people and groups, to help the children develop hospitality skills, and the school has plans to develop a kitchen garden. 

Pat Quigley, consultant for The Pavilion, explains: “We have a great vision for this site. We want to create as many work-related learning opportunities for the students as possible. There hasn’t been any provision in-borough for this cohort. 

“Lots of parents are very anxious about what’s going to happen when their children grow up. We felt if we do work-related learning on site and link with the community through our student-run cafe and horticultural area, we could create meaningful pathways into adulthood for all students encompassing training, education and supported work placements.”

The Pavilion is part of a dedicated programme of local investment in SEND provision by the Council in response to the nearly 50 per cent increase over the last five years in the number of children locally identified as needing specialist support.  

A total of 84 new SEND places have been built across the borough since 2020. 

These include:

  • Fifty new places at The Garden School’s new post-16 site The Pavilion 
  • Fourteen new places at Ickburgh School 
  • Ten new places at Gainsborough Primary School
  • Ten new places at Queensbridge Primary School 

And £13 million more has been newly-earmarked by the Council to help to create at least 300 more places between now and 2026. 

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