Orchard Manor School, a residential school in Dawlish that caters for 183 students aged three to 19 years old with communication and interaction difficulties, autistic spectrum conditions and learning needs, suffered a ‘devastating’ arson attack over the weekend of October 10.
In a newsletter to parents, Forest School instructor Chris Leeds said: “We were shocked to find on the Monday morning that our beautiful Forest School had been burnt down.
“Our shed where all our equipment was stored has been completely incinerated, the big canopy has been destroyed and some of the fire pit and fire pit area has literally been turned to charcoal.
“The news of the fire and total devastation of our Forest School has been as shocking for the staff as well as the students. Whilst this news is unbelievably horrifying, we are determined to remain positive for our students.
“From the ashes will rise something bigger and better. We have been able to claim on school insurance and are utilising school funds to refurbish Forest School, however.
“All of the students will have an opportunity to be apart of the Forest School Regeneration Project and all of their wonderful ideas and designs for the site will be considered.”
A Gofundme online fundraiser has been launched to help rebuild the school. So far, nearly £1,500 has been raised and the target is £10,000.
Parent Clare Wallace, of Tiverton, who has three children at the school, said: “Pupils come from all over the county because it is such a highly sought after school if you have children on the autistic spectrum as there are so very few schools that specialise in that.
“For children that are on the spectrum, doing practical things is good for them. It is good for confidence building, as well as learning new skills.
“The Forest School is the one thing in particular my children look forward to. It’s a highlight in their timetable.
“I was devastated when I heard it had been destroyed by arsonists, as were all the other parents, staff and children. What has been done is so pointless.
“Parents and staff have been donating to the fundraiser but as the school is only small it won’t be enough to repair the damage that has been caused.
“The sooner we can start rebuilding it the better because it is used all year round, even in bad weather.”
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