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Golden jubilee of school that breathed life into a village

Fifty years ago Debenham High School opened and today it is marking its golden jubilee at an event to which former staff and students are invited.

The first headmaster, Arthur Holifield, and his wife Kay, who taught at the primary school, demonstrated their commitment to the community by building their family home half way between the two schools.

They called the bungalow Ridgeway because they had previously lived close to the long distance path of that name which they loved. It also sits on the high ground between the valleys of the nascent River Deben and one of its tributaries. It was built to a high standard of design and comfort and is the building we bought after the death of Kay and have updated to eco standards.

The name Ridgeway is not changing. It is appropriate to the position and like Arthur and Kay we love the long distance path. Some years ago we walked from Tring to Avebury, almost the entire length of Ridgeway.

Without the High School Debenham would be a very different place today. It played an essential part in reversing a century-long decline in this ancient small market town in a fairly remote part of Suffolk.

Between 1841 and 1961 the populating had halved from 1,667 to 843. It was a story of agricultural decline through depression and mechanisation and the population drift to towns.

The population figures show what looked like almost irreversible decline as agricultural changes continued to force people out of farming jobs. For such communities the sign of hope was increasing car ownership which was fuelling commuting.

Debenham got more than its natural share of this increase in rural population. Between 1961 and 2011 the population nearly trebled from 843 to 2,369. One of the reasons it has been so attractive is good schools, something estate agents continue to promote as a reason for living here.

The rise in population means that Debenham still has a god range of shops including a post office, a frequent bus service and two pubs. It is in a lot better state than much of rural England.

But it faces new challenges as issues of global warming and fuel prices change perceptions of what is sustainable in a rural community. We will need more local jobs.

The parish council is now working on a village plan which will help shape the community’s future.





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