Published: 17:00, 09 January 2019
When a fire ripped through a small village school, it rocked the tight-knit community.
More than two years later St James Primary Academy on the Isle of Grain is up-and-running and the children and staff are at last re-united under one roof.
The blaze, which reduced much of the school in the High Street to rubble, started in a classroom in the early hours of October 30, 2016.
Thankfully, they were on their autumn break but it soon became apparent that they would not be able to return for the new term.
With just 20% of buildings deemed useable - 60% destroyed and 20% smoke damaged - emergency contingency plans were put into action.
It became of paramount importance that the education of the 178 youngsters should not be disrupted.
Pupils were ferried by bus to the neighbouring Allhallows Primary Academy, while the school was re-built.
Years 1 to 6 were taught by their class teachers in their original class groups at Allhallows.
Office manager Tracy Upton, a former pupil whose husband and children also went to the school, said: “It was absolute devastation when it happened.
“We tried to keep as many familiar faces so not only the teachers, but the dinner ladies and cleaners went to Allhallows. As a school, we are one big family.”
Only the reception class remained on site as their classroom was not affected.
The fire brought the community even closer with well-wishers across the Hoo Peninsula offering support,donating books and other items.
Head teacher Fay Cordingley, said: “It is an incredibly close community. In the playground, Year 1 and 6 played together because they all know each other whether they be brothers, sisters, cousins or live in the same street.
“Allhallows were very good to us but the split was quite sad. We tried to keep things together by having everyone back for assemblies in the school hall after it was revamped and at special services in the church.”
Miss Cordingley added: “As a school we feel extremely cared for.
“We could have just been lumped onto a bigger site at Allhallows, but the school is very much part of this village. It’s amazing how the children settled and started to feel the benefits from day one. It shows how resilient children are.”
The cause of the fire remains unknown. Police launched an investigation and it was initially thought to be suspicious but no arrests were made and the case has been concluded.