Fire-struck Follyfield reopens

A school boarding house rebuilt after being destroyed by fire has been officially reopened at Felsted School in Essex

During the 2012 summer holidays, Felsted School’s Follyfield House was completely destroyed by fire. The fire broke out on the evening of 15 July, and although none of the school’s staff or pupils were present at the time, a group of summer language school students and tutors in residence were evacuated. The emergency services were on the scene in minutes, but the fire took hold and completely razed the building. Arriving on the scene the next day, representatives from insurers Ecclesiastical agreed that demolition was the only choice. This left the school with the problem of accommodating students due to return to the school in September.

Ecclesiastical’s claims specialist consultant Sandra Cooper said: “This was a devastating fire that managed to reduce a 90-year-old building to rubble in just a few short hours. The immediate problem for us and the school’s team was what to do with the boarders due to arrive in the next few weeks. Felsted is Ofsted rated as ‘outstanding’ and consistently operates near capacity so there was no scope within the site to absorb the 60-plus girls and the staff for whom Follyfield was term-time home. Quite naturally, parents were concerned that their daughters should have safe and appropriate accommodation in time for the beginning of the academic year.”

In order to provide the necessary temporary accommodation, a two-storey complex of modular buildings created a ‘mini-hotel’ on the 90-acre site. The demolition of Follyfield House, a three-storey 1,700 sqm, red-brick structure built in 1928, began within a week and plans were drawn up for its £6m replacement, which incorporated a number of upgrades requested by the school. 

Sandra Cooper explained: “As Felsted’s insurer, our responsibility was to give the school back what it had before the fire. But this was an old building and the school expressed the wish to include some more modern features, such as ensuite bathrooms for some of the senior girls. We had no problem with this and were able to work with the school to negotiate a solution that was acceptable to both parties. We also found alternative accommodation for the house mistress and her family, whose home was part of Follyfield House.

“In slightly more unusual aspect of the claim, Ecclesiastical paid for the replenishment of a lake in the grounds of a neighbouring property. This had been drained virtually dry by fire appliances which had to bring additional water in to fight the fire.”

School bursar Margaret Mckenna said: “The school is most appreciative of the support we have received from Ecclesiastical. From the day after the fire and throughout the following two and a half years, they have always been extremely helpful – which has meant a great deal to us as we dealt with the emotional impact of the aftermath of the fire. In all aspects of the claim, whether it be arranging for temporary boarding accommodation for 60 girls, supporting the site clearance and the design and build of the new boarding house, or reimbursing our students for possessions lost in the fire, we have been very well looked after. The school has been treated with great professionalism and care, and we are very grateful.”

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