Mixed feelings as centre closes

FORMER staff and pupils of a hearing impaired unit are today left with just their memories of the place as it finally closed after 20 years.

FORMER staff and pupils of a hearing impaired unit are today left with just their memories of the place as it finally closed after 20 years.

A celebration was held at the unit, which is situated at Westbourne Sports College in Marlow Road, for all past pupils and staff to get together for one last time.

About 30 former students, ranging from the ages of 16 to 37, attended the event, as well as 15 former staff members. The celebration was also to mark the retirement of Anne Frost, a teacher of the deaf at Rushmere Hall Primary's hearing impaired unit.

The unit, which was the only remaining secondary school hearing impaired unit in south Suffolk, was designed to assist those with profound deafness who needed extra help for subjects like English. It opened in 1987 and catered for around 16 students at a time.

Now the students, who would have attended the unit, are in mainstream schools and any additional help is provided by personal communicators that come into the classrooms.

Sarah Norman, who was the manager of the unit before retiring, said: “The reunion was absolutely brilliant. It was so good to meet everyone again. It was a chance to get everyone together.

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“Students are going to their local schools now so they do not have to cross Ipswich by taxi or travel from Felixstowe. It is also better from the point of view of making friends as they are nearer their homes now.

“I was very sad to see its closure. It is a sign of the times. It is down to digital hearing aids and cochlear implants which have been helping these children cope with harder subjects at an early age.”

Younger students would traditionally attend Rushmere Hall Primary School's hearing impaired unit and then those aged between 11 and 18 would go to Westbourne High's unit.

They would attend normal lessons at school, often accompanied by their own personal communicator, and if they needed extra help, they would go into the unit for one-to-one attention.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: “The hearing impaired unit at Westbourne High School recently had no pupils wanting to use it, so it closed on April 1.

“Parents with hearing-impaired children are choosing local high schools and with improved hearing aid technology. This is an appropriate choice.

“There is no reduction in services as staff and equipment from the unit will be used to support pupils in local high schools.”

How do you feel about the closure of this unit? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Kevin Cordell, 22, of Badgers Bank, off Belstead Road, Ipswich, was at the unit from 1997 until 2003. He now works at Jardine Lloyd Thompson as a pensions payroll administrator.

He said: “My favourite memories were of me playing football for my school team for the first time. Since then I have always and continue to play football and I'm currently a player for Colchester Deaf FC.

“It makes me very proud and I feel a great sense of achievement because I am profoundly deaf. Another great memory is meeting my true best friend Sebastian Smith.

“We have known each other since Rushmere Primary School. He was my partner in crime as we often got in trouble at school. We are like brothers and we are always in contact.”

Another former pupil, Emma-Jane Whiting, 32, of Woodbridge Road, Ipswich, was at the school between 1990 and 1994. She is now a part-time support worker in Silent Street.

She said: “My best memories are going skiing and camping with school every year.”