In the quiet village of Burnham, near Slough, a controversy simmers that rivals any drama captured on screen. Buckinghamshire Council, the local governing body, has found itself at the heart of a growing dispute following its decision to repurpose Burnham Park Academy, a school shuttered in the wake of an “inadequate” Ofsted inspection in 2019, as a lucrative filming location. Among its credits, the site now boasts appearances in the globally acclaimed Netflix series “Heartstopper,” a move that has netted the council £434,494.
The decision to close the school, once a cornerstone of local education, was made by the Department for Education, citing its failure to meet the required standards. Since then, the empty halls and classrooms of Burnham Park have played host to three production companies, a move that, while financially beneficial for the council, has left a bitter taste in the mouths of those it affects most directly.
Parents like Lee Wignall, facing the prospect of sending their children to schools outside their community, express a sentiment that resonates throughout Burnham: “That school should definitely be reopened, no question.” The sentiment is echoed by Marie Hammon, chairperson of Burnham Parish Council, who decried the village’s descent into a state of neglect and isolation following the school’s closure. The revelation that Buckinghamshire Council has profited from the site’s use for filming only adds insult to injury, highlighting a disconnect between the council’s financial gains and the community’s loss.
Despite the council’s assertion, through spokesperson John Chilver, that no profit is being made from these ventures—with the income purportedly covering the costs of maintaining the vacant property—the community’s response paints a different picture. The efforts to reopen the school, underscored by a campaign to assess local interest, were met with disappointment as the council deemed the numbers insufficient to sustain a viable educational institution.
As Burnham Park Academy’s transformation from a place of learning to a film set continues to unfold, the debate over its future remains unresolved. With no long-term plans confirmed and the council’s stance on the financial aspects of the filming opportunities under scrutiny, the saga of Burnham Park serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities that arise when public assets are repurposed, leaving communities to grapple with the repercussions.