There was great excitement in Bellsbank this afternoon as the village welcomed former pupil, BBC journalist Laura Bicker as guest of honour at the official opening of the brand new primary school, early childhood centre and community facility.
Laura grew up in Bellsbank in the early 1980s, living just across from the school in Craiglea Crescent. She has been a reporter for BBC News for 20 years and has travelled the world, working in newsrooms across the globe. As Scotland Correspondent in the USA, Laura reported on a number of stories in various states, before moving to Washington DC where she covered the election of Donald Trump in 2016. In 2018 she moved to Seoul, where she is currently covering North and South Korea.
Taking time out from a trip home to visit family, Laura unveiled a commemorative plaque, marking the official opening of the new primary school, early childhood centre and community facility. With physical distancing arrangements in place, Laura was joined by pupils Hayden, 3 and Emily, 5.
Headteacher, Donald Currie later escorted Laura on a VIP tour of the new £6.1 million development.
Donald Currie explained: “This is a great day for Bellsbank and it’s wonderful to welcome Laura Bicker back to this community. We’d initially approached her last year, but COVID-19 cast a shadow over our plans, so we are extremely grateful to her for taking time out of her family holiday to join us today.
“As a community we are so proud to recognise the achievements of one of our own and I hope Laura’s visit today will inspire other young people to pursue their dreams!”
Highlights of Laura’s tour of the building included a visit to the gym/dining hall, with its floor to ceiling picture window which frames the stunning Ayrshire countryside, and the Murray Suite which, by day, is used by the school and in the evening and at weekends is used local community groups for activities and social interaction.
The Murray Suite is dedicated to Nancy Murray, former Supervisor of the former Bellsbank community wing for over 25 years, in recognition of her hard work and dedication as Centre Supervisor but also for her contribution to the community of Bellsbank as a whole. Nancy continues to attend project classes and be heavily involved in the activities of the Bellsbank community.
As she toured the building, Laura had a peek inside the new playrooms and classrooms, which have direct access to outdoor spaces. Some of the external works are still in progress, due to COVID-19 restrictions, but should be completed in the near future. Classrooms open directly onto light, bright and flexible internal learning zones.
Speaking at the event Laura said:
“I feel so honoured to be asked to open Bellsbank’s new primary school. This school, its teachers and this community nurtured and supported myself and my family when we needed it the most.
“I know this is hard to believe now, but I was a painfully shy pupil. I struggled to even raise my hand, let alone speak out in class. The words always got stuck in my throat and I felt ill if I had to talk in front of others. So much so, that when my former teacher Mrs Sloan once spotted me on telly, she said she almost fainted in shock.
“It was a teacher, Mr Paterson, here at Bellsbank, who started the transformation. He encouraged me to write my thoughts down and speak them out loud.
“Thanks to him my voice is now heard around the world. I would not be the foreign correspondent I am today without the experiences I gained here in Bellsbank.
“I hope this new school will nurture more young voices from this village and give them the skills and experiences they need to follow their own dreams.”
Councillor Fiona Campbell, Cabinet Spokesperson for Skills and Learning, attended the visit and was joined by local ward members, Councillors John Bell, Elaine Dinwoodie and Drew Filson.
Councillor Campbell said: “I’m extremely grateful to everyone who made this visit possible, given the restrictions in place, and I’d particularly like to thank Laura for joining us today.
“We are immensely proud of these new facilities and what they will bring to the community and it is perfectly fitting that Laura, herself a former pupil, and her mother a former teacher, has returned to her roots to officially open them.
“These facilities offer an exciting educational, social and leisure hub in the heart of the village, which will provide an exciting new environment for our young learners.”
Ashleigh Construction were contracted to undertake the work on the Bellsbank development. Euan Clark, Commercial Director, Ashleigh (Scotland) Limited said:
“We are extremely proud to have been involved in the fantastic new Bellsbank Primary School, Early Childhood Centre and Community Facility. As an Ayrshire based Company, projects like these allow us to deliver in the heart of our local communities, providing continued employment and supply chain opportunities. We are particularly proud in the manner in which Bellsbank was delivered, where we established a great relationship with the East Ayrshire delivery team, staff and, of course, the pupils. We wish them all many happy and successful years in the new Facility.”
Health Secretary and local MSP, Jeane Freeman, was unable to attend, but sent in a special video message which was relayed to guests present. She said:
“I am delighted the building is finished and I look forward to visiting the school very soon. Special thanks to all the children, Mr Currie, teachers, families and friends and East Ayrshire Council for helping to build something in Bellsbank that the community really deserves.
“I’m very proud of everything the children have achieved, believe in yourselves, and be all you can be.. you are all wee stars!”
East Ayrshire Council invested £4.65 million in the development, with an additional £1.45 million from the Scottish Government’s Early Learning and Childcare capital-funding programme, to support the Council’s delivery of 1140 hours of childcare provision in the area.