Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston stepped back in time to relive his schooldays before exchanging views with current pupils on the shape of Middlesbrough’s future.
Mr Preston was returning for the first time to St Clare’s Catholic Primary – which he attended from the age of seven to 11 – as part of the school’s 50th birthday celebrations.
And although the old building where he sat his lessons has now been demolished and a new one built on what used to be the school’s playing fields, the visit brought happy memories flooding back.
“I’ve got loads of great memories – eccentric teachers, school trips and the lovely dinners, especially white ice cream in rectangular blocks with toffee sauce and also pink blancmange with Frosties on the top,” he said.
Headteacher Liz Eddies was delighted to report that the ice cream and toffee sauce is still on the menu – and it’s just as popular now as it was back in the 1970s!
“Hearing Andy’s memories about our school was really special,” she said.
“He recognised one of the volunteers who comes to read with the children as a former teacher, which was a lovely moment.
“The school council asked him questions about his memories of St Clare’s, and about his role as mayor and what he’s doing for the homeless, because as Catholics it’s important we look after our most vulnerable people.
“He gave great answers and spoke about his vision for Middlesbrough and also asked them what they want from the town.
“He was really warm and welcoming and engaging with the children. He talked about his plans to plant 10,000 trees, which links into our work on the campaign to prevent houses being built on Acklam Meadows, so they’re were delighted about that.
“He also talked about reducing plastics use and our eco council have just started a campaign to reduce plastic use in school.
“And he told us that several places in Middlesbrough are going to have beehives for a trial and we said we’d love to have one, as we already keep our own chickens.”
St Clare’s, which is rated Outstanding by Ofsted and is part of Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust, has 250 pupils and covers Brookfield and also Whinney Banks, having taken children from St Francis Catholic Primary when that school closed in 2002.
“We’re one big happy family,” said Mrs Eddies. “We all look after each other and we’re a school full of smiles. What I see from our children is God’s love radiating and they’re beautiful children to be around.
“It’s the same with the staff, who are so committed to the St Clare’s community and that’s why I love being headteacher here.”
Mr Preston, who attended the school along with brothers Chris and Jonny and sister Claire, admitted: “I was quite naughty and had to sit at a desk on my own beside Mrs Brown – I can still feel the humiliation.
“I’ve made a commitment to visit every school in Middlesbrough during 2020 – so it was appropriate I kicked off the tour back at my old primary school.
“The kids were honest, funny and positive about our town’s future and how they think we can make it more exciting.”
St Clare’s celebrations will continue when former pupils and staff are invited to a Festival on the Fields later in the year, while in the summer term a 1970s’ theme dressing up party day will be laid on for pupils and staff.