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December 6, 2004

Deaf school sale cash sets up new charity

From: ic Liverpool, UK - Dec 6, 2004

By Deborah James, Daily Post Staff

A NATIONAL charity has been set up with proceeds from the sale of the last specialist school on Merseyside dedicated to helping deaf children speak.

Birkdale School for the Hearing Impaired, in Southport, was sold for £3.2m after it lost its battle for survival following a series of financial difficulties, last July.

Now the proceeds are being made available to help improve the lives of hearing-impaired children all over the country, as developers move in to convert the school into 100 luxury apartments.

The Birkdale Trust for the Hearing Impaired will offer £100,000 in grants to individuals, families and community groups, each year.

Trustee Dennis Hobley told the Daily Post: "It was a real shame the school had to close, but it is nice to think some good will now come out of it.

"The grants will primarily be for equipment like hearing aids, or anything to help further a child's education, like special tuition.

"We will keep investing so the fund will grow. We will be able to help a lot of children in the long term."

The school, set in a prime 10-acre site at the heart of Birkdale's conservation area on Lancaster Road, will now be turned into 100 luxury apartments, each expected to fetch between £400,000 and £1m. The Grade II-listed three-storey Victorian mansion, next to Royal Birkdale golf course, was snapped up by developer Blackthorn Homes earlier this year.

The company recently completed a multi-million pound conversion of Southport's former Promenade Hospital, where apartments are now owned by footballers Steven Gerard, Dominic Matteo and Gareth Farreley.

Director Simon Coyle said the company expects to spend in excess of £10m converting the school into flats, with the first phase of work set to start early in 2005.

He said: "Buildings like this are always a real treasure trove, there will be a lot of interesting original features that we will preserve."

The company has secured initial outline planning permission, but needs full permission from council officials before work can start.

Birkdale was the only school in the North West to encourage pupils to speak rather than use sign language. Among its facilities were acoustically soundproofed rooms and electronic hearing loops.

Directors announced the decision to close the school in April 2003 after a desperate four-month campaign to solve a funding crisis.

Efforts included a 5,000-signature petition presented at Downing Street in March and a campaign by Esther Rantzen's ITV1 show That's Esther.

The school was kept afloat for the previous three years only by selling off several peripheral buildings.

Trustees blamed declining pupil numbers - which were down to just 25 by the time the school closed - on a Government policy of pushing more children with special needs into mainstream schools.

Several pupils are understood to have been forced to go to non-specialist schools following the closure, while 10 still travel or board at the nearest similar facility, in Boston Spa, Yorkshire.

A century of education

BIRKDALE school for the hearing impaired helped more than 5,000 children learn to speak since it opened in 1948.

The original school was designed by Southport architect Edward Shelbourne and opened in 1902.

In 1946 the building was taken over by the Liverpool school for the partially hearing.

The 4,574 square metre site boasts an indoor pool and playing fields.

The school was visited by Princess Diana in 1998.

© owned by or licensed to Trinity Mirror Plc 2004