From Past to Present
St Helena Secondary School was opened on Friday 28th January 1938 by Kenneth Lindsay, Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education in Neville Chamberlain's National Government. In those days, education in Colchester was controlled by the Colchester Borough Education Committee, chaired by Alderman Alex Blaxill, the Mayor. Originally, the school comprised two 'schools'; boys with Mr H Hepburn Reid as Headmaster; and girls with Miss M Lucas as Headmistress. There were some shared facilities, but otherwise there was strictly enforced segregation!
The school took its name from Colchester's patron saint. According to the Chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth written in the twelfth century, St Helena was the daughter of Coel, a legendary King of Colchester in the third century. She was the mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian to rule the Roman Empire.
The site of the school, covering 17 acres, is an historic one, and in the 1930s was the subject of extensive excavation by the Colchester Excavation Committee and the London Society of Antiquaries. This research established that part of the field was the site of a Gallo-RomanTemple erected in about 90 AD and remained in use until about 400 AD. The site still attracts interest from archaeologists.
The original segregated arrangement remained until 1961, when, under Mr Hepburn Reid's stewardship, the school became a co-education Secondary Modern. After twenty-five years as Head of the School, Mr Hepburn Reid retired in 1963 to be succeeded by Mr H S Boyle. When the school was reorganised again in 1977 becoming an 11-18 mixed Comprehensive School, Mr J D McIlwain became Headteacher. By this time the school had become part of the Essex Local Education Authority. It was the Essex LEA which implemented secondary reorganisation in Colchester in 1987, converting St HelenaSchool to an 11-16 mixed comprehensive, and opening a Sixth Form College on North Hill in the town centre.
The school celebrated its Golden Jubilee in January 1988, and was honoured by the presence of the Rt. Hon. Kenneth Baker, the Secretary of State for Education and Science. On the Commemoration Day, (28 January 1988), he was accompanied by Kenneth Lindsay, making his first return to the school since he had opened it in 1938.
In terms of buildings, the original '1938' school still stands, a testimony to the skill of the architect and builders. Of course, over the years it has enjoyed added facilities and minor structural maintenance. Two major building programmes have brought added capacity, so that an original capacity of 720 has now increased to over 1000. In 1976 a new block was constructed comprising general classrooms, science laboratories and art rooms. In 1991 a Sports Hall and technology rooms were built.
The school which emerged as a Grant Maintained School in September 1993 had a fine blend of old and new, of traditional and modern. Since then the developments have continued, with additional teaching space added in 2006, a new Learning Resource Centre built in 2010, all-weather pitches added in 2015 and a purpose-built new Science & Technology block completed in 2016. Since joining the Sigma Trust, development of the site has continued with a comprehensive refurbishment programme of windows and roofing in 2018.
As a postscript, in these days of high building costs, it is interesting to note that the original cost of the school, (land, buildings and fittings), was £46,799. You got a lot for your money in those days!