Special needs school warned: Raise £3.5m or give up free site

By Jessica Elgot, June 28, 2012

Hackney special-needs school Side by Side faces a race against time to take up a gift of land worth £1.5 million from a strictly Orthodox housing charity.

The Agudas Israel Housing Association has made the offer as part of the Avigdor Mews development on Lordship Road in Stoke Newington. But Side by Side needs to raise £3.5 million for the building work and the association needs an answer in six months.

Agudas Israel chief executive Ita Symons said she was doing her “very best to help them get the site, but we cannot wait forever”.

Last week, the association submitted a planning application to Hackney Council to build a school and kindergarten for 110 pupils on the ground and lower ground floor of the site. AIHA will build 14 apartments for strictly Orthodox families, mostly three- and four-bedroom flats, above the school.

“If they cannot raise the money, we’ll have to look at other options and offer the space to another school. Hackney Council wants a school on the site,” Mrs Symons explained. “I want to see a business plan and a fundraising strategy.” She hoped Side by Side would be able to access government money for the move.
Side by Side has 60 pupils and operates from temporary buildings in Upper Clapton.

Mrs Symons expected the planning decision to be taken inside six months. The process would not be easy as complaints had been made by neighbours about current Avigdor Mews residents, particularly over excessive noise from car horns and children playing.

“There will be a lot of negative feeling,” she said. “They don’t want us there. But we will win.”
No one from Side by Side was available for comment.

Last updated: 12:36pm, June 28 2012