THE DENTAL Estimates Board in Old Town is being eyed up to become a new free school as the remaining NHS staff prepare for the end of an era.
Simon Meader, who has worked at the NHS Dental Estimates Board for around 30 years, gave a tour of the site in Compton Place Road this week before he and his colleagues leave in the next few months.
Members of the East Sussex Free School group, potential teachers, governors and other interested parties attended and learned more about the history of the site, which includes buildings and extensions from various periods going back more than 140 years.
The Master’s House is the oldest building on the site and dates back to 1870. Other parts were added in the 1960s and 1970s.
The original part of the building was used as a public school until the late 1930s, when it was evacuated during the war before becoming the Dental Estimates Board in 1948.
The dental board, along with Lottbridge Drove’s old Bird’s Eye factory, was the biggest employer in the town for many years and took around 38 million dental claim forms each year at its busiest time. It was extended heavily to provide large office spaces and facilities for the staff.
Mr Meader said, “Most people know someone who has worked here. There have been two or three generations that have worked here.”
However, the few staff left at the now almost empty site are getting ready to move to smaller offices in Eastbourne town centre and the East Sussex Free School Group hopes to turn it back into a school.
Mr Meader said, “Most who work here understand the business reason for us leaving and appreciate it would be good to see it return to being a school.”
During the tour Mr Meader explained the 1960s buildings were similar to that of a modular school from that time.
Everyone on the tour agreed the large open spaces, which include a canteen, lecture theatre and conference room, would work well as a new school.
Edward Board, from the East Sussex Free School group, said, “It is an amazing site and a wonderful opportunity to do something without changing too much.
“We are all really very excited and the site has got a huge amount of potential.
“There is scope for an astronomy club and for cricket, tennis, rugby and football out the front. There really is a lot we can do at this site and we are all very enthusiastic.”
Mr Board and other members of the East Sussex Free School group have submitted an application to the Department of Education and are waiting to be informed about an interview. They will then learn whether the group’s application has been accepted.
Mr Board added, “We just need the community to come together and co-operate. We would like to work with other schools too.
“For example, some schools would find it difficult to have a day out on the Downs, so we would say come here, leave your stuff here and have lunch here.
“There is lots of space and we are happy for other groups and schools to use it too.”
East Sussex Free School wants as much local community involvement as possible and Mr Board added, “It is about going that extra mile. We want to take a commonsense approach.”
Toby Young, journalist and author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, is a governor at West London Free School and he attended the guided tour in Eastbourne.
Afterwards he Tweeted, “The Big Society is alive and well in Eastbourne. Just met with East Sussex Free School group hoping to open in abandoned NHS building.”
East Sussex Free School is aware residents in the area are ‘wary’ of the plans but says the new school will be ‘well ordered and vigorous’.
It plans to cater for primary pupils through to sixth form and the group says it has received support from parents with children in each age group.
Free schools are a Coalition Government initiative which allow groups to set up and run independent state-funded schools, tailored to what they believe are the local needs.
The groups can apply to open schools in Government buildings that are surplus or under-used, so the group in Eastbourne feels the Compton Place Road site is perfect for its requirements.