Staff, parents and former pupils are fighting to keep an independent Roman Catholic school for girls open after it suddenly shut its doors permanently.
St Mary’s School in Shaftesbury announced last week that it had shut permanently following the end of the summer term.
The Sunday Times reported that the independent Roman Catholic day and boarding school for girls aged nine to 18 was due to be bought by Achieve Education Group, a Shanghai-based group owned by businessman Chenming Bao that invests in UK schools. However, the company decided to pull out of the deal, which, according to The Sunday Times, would have seen an investment of £6 million being made to save the cash-strapped school.
Mike Farmer, a director of the company, told The Sunday Times that political tensions were “a key factor” in the deal being pulled. He cited a speech by foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, in which he said that it could not be “business as usual” with China following the Covid-19 crisis.
Mr Farmer said: “There is a general mood that investment is now discouraged, and that’s having a ripple effect.”
However, staff, parents and former students are now attempting to save the school, which was founded in 1945, by raising money and finding new investors.
The school posted on its social media pages that since the announcement of the closure, there had been ‘an uprising of energy from the parents, pupils and alumnae’.
The post revealed that a GoFundMe page had been set up in an effort to save the school. The page has already raised more than £30,000 of a £1.5 million target, with some donors pledging hundreds and others pledging thousands.
A statement shared across the school’s social media accounts also revealed that a group of parents, staff and alumnae had formed a steering committee ‘committed to continuing the life of St Mary’s Shaftesbury’.
The statement, signed by the chairman of the Save St Mary’s Steering Committee, informed that the committee had met with the headteacher and finance team to discuss the current situation and immediate options for the future of the school.
It pointed out that all options were being considered, ‘including engaging several parties who have expressed interest in investing in St Mary’s’.
The committee urged parents who were searching for new schools for their daughters to ‘not make any firm commitments elsewhere until 24th July’ while these options were being considered.
Notable former pupils of the school include art curator Laura Lopes, daughter of the Duchess of Cornwall, and novelist Sophie Kinsella.
Former Tory party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith also sent his daughters to St Mary’s and was a governor of the school in 2007-9, The Sunday Times reported.
To view the GoFundMe page or make a donation see: https://uk.gofundme.com/f/save-st-mary039s-shaftesbury
Picture: A screenshot of the St Mary’s Shaftesbury homepage announcing efforts to save the school from closure.