Since my first post on 10th May when I gave a bit of history about Benwell Towers, ie. originally the Bishops Palace, etc.  I now find that in fact since the BBC pulled out after making the series Byker Grove, which incidentally was the start of a very successful career for Ant and Dec, the building has been taken over by, and turned into an Islamic School.  My sister-in-law told me it has been very quiet since they moved in.  As a teacher, I can’t imagine a school being always quiet.  I never found one on my peripatetic travels.  Are Islamic children quieter than other children from different backgrounds?   It’s hard to get my head round the idea of an Islamic school in Benwell.  I was born and bred there and only left when I got married and I don’t think I saw one coloured person.  I lie, I did, when I went dancing at the Oxford Ballroom in Newcastle city centre where there were coloured men.  Some of them sailors I think whose boat was docked  at Tyneside.  But I never saw coloured families.  How times change and we have become multi-cultural in such a short time.

It’s quite ironic but I worked for a while for the Home Office in a school for ‘girls in need of care and attention’. That was what I was told.  It was one step up from Borstal acually.  They were from all over the country but the great majority were from Brixton and similar areas.  I learned more from them than they did from me I think.  Often they sat crying or were missing from class and when I asked where a certain girl was, which was often, I would get the answer “She’s gone AWOL  Or ‘over the wall’.  It was a sad place in a wonderful building.  More like a castle in beautiful grounds.  When I went for the interview it was during the holidays, very quiet, and I noticed the swimming pool was empty of water.  I thought that it would be great when they filled it up next term.  They never did – thought the girls might try to drown themselves.  It wasn’t unusual to go in in the morning and see a 15 year old sitting outside Mother Superior’s office waiting to be seen, wrists bandaged having tried to commit suicide.  It really was a depressing place and I felt so sorry for the girls.  They looked forward though to a weekly visit from the psychiatrist – not so much for the help he might give them but as they said for the ‘ciggies’ he gave them.  They opened their hearts to me and found it easy to talk to me when they found I was married with children around their age and when I told them to tell Mother Superior what they had just told me and that she may be able to help them they said they could not speak to her as she was a nun and wouldn’t understand.  It was run by nuns and really those girls had seen more life than the nuns ever would – unless they left the order and went out into the world.  The nuns had to sleep in the dorms with the girls so I was sympathizing with them as it’s something I wouldn’t have fancied doing. but then I’m not a bride of Jesus, not even a Catholic – more of an atheist – but when I heard one of them shout down the corridor to one of the girls “My child, you’ll go to hell and damnation via borstal and prison” – well what can I say!  I would have expected something like “My child, may God forgive you as I find it difficult”.  I never felt that school should have existed.  The girls were  ‘locked’ in – except on the occasions when they went AWOL or ‘over the wall’ – it amused me the way they had all the jargon you expect of hardened criminals which they weren’t  – just girls who had gone astray, had bad experiences, et-cetera

Not long after I left I wasn’t surprised to hear the school had closed down and this is where the irony comes in.  It is now a school for rich islamic boys.  Someone I know went to one of their summer garden parties where there were stalls selling the usual things that you get at these do’s.  Apparently boys were buying  things you get on the stalls – cheap bits and pieces, cakes, drinks, etc. and were handing over 10 and 20 pound notes and not bothering to  wait for the change.

What a change – from girls to boys – from poor to rich!  Hope it’s a success time.

It can’t fail if they keep having Garden Parties can it!

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