Side by Side pondering Kisharon merger

Side by Side pupils happily at play

Side by Side pupils happily at play

The new management of the Side by Side special needs school in Stamford Hill is contemplating a merger with Kisharon in Golders Green in a bid to resolve Side by Side's financial problems.

Yossel Margulies and David Freeman, two of the new team, spoke this week of their efforts to rescue the charity from financial ruin.

Last year, a site purchased by Side by Side for a new school was repossessed after the former management was unable to keep up loan payments.

The school, which has 38 special needs and around 30 mainstream children, is currently housed in portacabins in Big Hill, despite an eviction notice having been issued by Hackney Council in 2008.

The school is operating in dilapidated buildings

The school is operating in dilapidated buildings

In 2006, the former Avigdor Primary School site in Lordship Road was purchased for £2.5million by Side by Side Kids, a company set up by Rebecca Rumpler. Mrs Rumpler had founded the school in 1996 after failing to find a local nursery place for her son Judah, now 16, who has Down's syndrome.

The company had borrowed £1.7million from the bank and a ground-breaking ceremony was held in mid-2008. But soon afterwards, Side by Side announced it was delaying building and the company now faces administration.

Responding to fears in the community that things were spiralling out of control, the new management team was drafted in six months ago, setting up a new company, Side by Side Children, to run the school. The team immediately organised a reception, with money raised used to pay off urgent debts, including two months of teachers' wages. It also recruited a new head, Gemma Blaker, formerly of Parliament Hill School in Camden.

"The moment we arrived, we realised the school needed a big shake-up," Mr Freeman said.

"We started to investigate all the other Jewish special needs schools around the world and saw the state-of-the-art buildings and professionalism which unfortunately we didn't have on the same level. We're now restructuring all the way down the line."

Another change has enabled pupils to start at the school earlier, before the completion of the statementing process with the local authority. And parents are being helped to apply for the correct funding.

The Lordship Road site is on hold and the team is examining alternative options. Four meetings have been held with leaders of the Kisharon Day School in Golders Green about a possible merger. "We feel there has never been a better opportunity than now," Mr Margulies said. "There aren't more than 70 special needs kids between us and we're looking at whether it is possible to share resources and facilities."

Kisharon chairman Philip Goldberg said it "always welcomes an opportunity to work together with other providers to meet the needs of the learning disabled in the Jewish community.

"The joint venture being proposed would not only allow us to develop our existing good special educational provision for the children of our community but will also represent a wonderful use of the community's resources.The management team of Side By Side has now gone away to develop the proposal for our consideration."

In February, Side by Side raised a much-needed £400,000-plus from a dinner in central London, attended by more than 800 guests.

"This was a very new concept for Stamford Hill," Mr Margulies said. "Stamford Hill has never been to the Hilton, it's not in their style. But it was a tremendous success."

Despite the financial problems, Mr Margulies maintains that the school is needed more than ever. "It used to be that parents didn't want special needs children at home but now it's becoming more acceptable. We get so many phone calls from people wanting to send their children here. People are becoming proud to be part of this."

    Last updated: 11:34am, April 29 2010