Not keeping it on the level

The crazy design of my disabled twin sister’s school

Last week in my Huffington Post blog, I wrote a piece bemoaning the lack of a past for my old school, Outwood Grange Comprehensive, near Wakefield. It was as if the start of the academic year, September 2009 was Outwood’s year 0, with all record of its former history deleted. As Jenny didn’t go to a mainstream school but one which billed itself as a ‘school for the handicapped’, I wondered if this was true of her alma mater too.

John Jamieson School’s website is silent about headteachers, the date it was built and, most oddly of all, the eponymous John Jamieson. Jenny went to that school from September 1973 till July 1985 but in all the time, I don’t remember being curious about the name. Was Jamieson a generous benefactor, a disabled child, or simply a local Leeds councillor in the 1950s or ’60s?

What I do know about the history of the school is gleaned from an article in a 1978 edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post, which says it was purpose built in 1967.

That phrase ‘purpose built’ got me thinking back to when I’d visit the John Jamieson’s for its annual Summer Fayre, or we’d simply go there to pick up Jenny after a school holiday or day out. There was something funny about the place. Even more out of place than that unfriendly notice at the school gates which read: ‘Danger: Handicapped Children’, was the bonkers geometry of the building.

Seemingly built on one level when walking round the outside perimeter, inside there were at least two, possibly three lifts. Yet, as far as I could remember, the lift only went the height of half-a-dozen or so steps. This didn’t make sense. Was my memory playing tricks 35 years on?

It was only when I came across Jenny’s old copy of her school magazine, that I found the answer – which was, indeed, nuts. John Jamieson the first, i.e. the very first edition of the magazine, from March 1975 has a short piece by a 14-year-old pupil which focuses on the inaccessibility of the school. John Jamieson’s was single storey, but built on three different levels for reasons of aesthetics. It was supposed to have three lifts but the budget for that third had been blown by a water leak and the cost of replacing the school’s flooring – the original floor surfaces turned out to be too slippery for walking sticks.

Bearing in mind the cost of installing and then running and servicing two/three unnecessary lifts over the school’s near 50-year-history, those words ‘purpose built’ seem ironic, to say the least.

About Ed Green

Writer and editor, Yorkshire bred, now living and working in Central London. This blog charts the writing of my memoir 'Twinned' - life with and without my disabled sister. It features disability issues, cerebral palsy, traumatic death, bereavement, twinless twins, guest posts, and throws in the occasional 'off topic' post.
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