Royal Blind School says farewell to 179-year site

Playtime at the school. Picture: Toby Williams

Playtime at the school. Picture: Toby Williams

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THEIR new campus boasts everything from top-of-the-range technology suites to specially coloured walls designed to help pupils get around – but for youngsters at Scotland’s Royal Blind School, there’s nowhere quite like the old building they’re about to leave for good.

The Edinburgh institution is entering a brave new era as its 179-year site at Craigmillar Park welcomes students for the last time tomorrow ahead of a move to revamped premises in Morningside over the summer.

Amid excitement at transferring to one of Scotland’s most advanced teaching spots, pupils and staff have admitted to shedding a tear over their school’s final flitting from a much-loved site stuffed with history as one of the leading facilities of its kind in the world.

Royal Blind has been at the forefront of the most radical developments in Scotland’s ever-changing education landscape, from the creation of dedicated early learning centres at the close of the Second World War to rolling out support for children with a range of additional needs less than a decade later.

With rolls dwindling as councils host increasing numbers of blind children in mainstream settings, the school has continued to adapt and is moving everyone at Craigmillar Park to its cutting-edge centre in Morningside’s Canaan Lane – which was Scotland’s first purpose-built campus for those with visual impairment and multiple disabilities when it opened in 1990.

But pupils past and present aren’t quite ready to let go of a site which has been central to their growth as confident and ambitious individuals.

Former student Jennifer Murray, 24, is about to graduate with a first-class honours degree in Spanish from the University of the West of Scotland and says she wouldn’t be where she is without the dedicated nurture and care of teachers at Craigmillar Park.

“It was such a close-knit community,” says the modern languages specialist, who is blind apart from the ability to perceive light and darkness.

“A lot of us stayed there Monday to Friday and then we went back to our families at the weekend. We were living and working alongside people in a similar situation to us – you become really close friends. Some of us are still in touch. There are so many memories I have that it’s hard to pick one out. Maybe it’s just being round people, the hustle and bustle of the campus.”

The school’s tradition of continuous modernisation has been alive and well at Craigmillar Park, where visually impaired children enjoy access to the latest technology in a drive to ensure nothing undermines their progress. S5 pupil Jake Murray, 16, says his classroom experience was transformed when teachers gave him a computerised braille note-taker complete with advanced voice, internet and rapid text-production capabilities.

And while admitting it feels “weird” to leave the building where he has received all of his secondary schooling, he is excited about relocating to Morningside.

“It will be a big change for me but also a good change,” he says. “There will definitely be positives in going to a new school and seeing what the new environment is like but I will really miss the feel and the atmosphere here.”

School leaders, meanwhile, say the decision to leave Craigmillar Park was “difficult” but stress their focus is firmly on moving forward.

“Our school building at Morningside is modern with all teaching and care facilities located on the ground floor, which is more suitable for the pupils we are likely to receive in the future,” says chief executive Richard Hellewell.

“Our strategy for the future is to become more outward- focused and to support pupils with visual impairments in mainstream schools as well as those who attend the Royal Blind School.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com