Mum plans to use Raine's Foundation site for new East Park church school
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Sarah Wilks is a mum of four who wants to open a new church secondary free school to fill a gap in Anglican education in east London and is waiting to apply for government funds.
Her East Park Secondary dream has a site ready — the vacant Raine’s Foundation School next to Victoria Park, which closed down amid controversy last year.
The family lawyer from Wanstead sees it as a chance for a CofE secondary with a catchment area of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and beyond.
She has the backing from Raine’s Foundation, which owns the Bethnal Green campus in Approach Road next to the park.
“We have a massive area of east London where parents simply don’t have the choice of an Anglican education for their children at secondary level,” Sarah explained. “We have 400 parents signed up so far in four boroughs, in spite of the pandemic, when it was hard reaching them.”
East Park would not come under the local education authority as it would be run as a free school funded by the Department for Education — if it gets the green light.
The application could be submitted as soon as October. The government has annual “waves of applications” for free schools when a window opens.
“You can’t just apply,” Sarah said. “You have to follow set criteria and times, to make sure community needs are met.”
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But she exudes confidence that East Park could be up and running by 2023 in time for her own children — the eldest aged nine — who would travel each day on the Central Line to Bethnal Green from Wanstead.
Raine’s Foundation chair Carole Day said: “We’re totally behind this project and want this place to be a school again.
“The trust was upset at Raine’s Secondary being closed down by Tower Hamlets last year, which caused controversy with parents — it was a shame.
“But now it makes perfect sense for East Park. The London Diocese is happy to have a new Christian school here again.”
The cloud over Raine’s Foundation's closure had its silver lining for Sarah. It was "a big piece of jigsaw that fell in place" having a school campus ready to use, she said.
“We've got this amazing place that’s oozing heritage and character. It's brilliantly accessible and right by the park. Not to use this as a school would be a scandal.”
Her project is being steered by Fulham Boys School, which has pupils from east London and is oversubscribed by seven to one.
“Parents told us they want something like that in east London,” she recalled. “We met families from Newham and Redbridge with kids in Year 2 to Year 4 looking around for Anglican secondary education.
“Raine’s left a big gap in east London’s education landscape because it removed a choice for Christian education.”
She has had to wait to make an application to Whitehall because of the pandemic and is hopeful the next “window” opens in October.
“We don't need cash at the moment,” Sarah revealed. “We have the Raine’s building ready. It’s just the green light to go – there’s nothing more we need.”
The only CofE school anywhere near the proposed East Park is All Saints, formerly Sir John Cass, next to the Stepney Mother Church of St Dunstan’s. The next CofE eastward is St Edmund’s in Romford.
Meanwhile, the “campus by the park” isn’t lying idle. Bow Food Bank uses it Tuesdays and Wednesdays serving 400 families in need. Three churches meet there on Sundays - East End Church, Christ Apostolic and Perry’s Chapel. An after-school maths and English club holds weekly lessons and Shuffles dance school plans Saturday sessions.
The campus was originally Parmiter’s before it moved to Hertfordshire in 1983 and was bought by Raine’s Foundation, which was then at Arbour Square in Stepney. Raine’s was founded in Wapping in 1719.
Prospective parents can register interest in East Park online or email Info@eastparkschool.org