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Ripon Choir School closes in debt

26 July 2012

RIPON Cathedral Choir School has closed at short notice, after proposals for a merger with a neighbouring independent school collapsed ( News, 20 July). Governors had hoped that the proposal to amalgamate it with Cundall Manor School, eight miles away, at Thirsk, would solve their financial problems, which include debts of £600,000 - much of it owed to the cathedral.

But last week the governors of Cundall Manor announced that they had withdrawn from the arrangement, saying that: "The short-term risks associated with the merger were greater than anticipated, and the longer-term benefits far from guaranteed."

It is understood that the choir school faced projected losses of more than £40,000 a month from the start of the coming autumn term.

Its 73 pupils, including 22 choristers, had only just left for the summer holidays, and now their parents must find places for them in other schools. One offer of assistance has come from Queen Ethelburga's College, near York. It is prepared to take on all the students and staff.

The Provost of St Ethelburga's, Brian Martin, said: "We have made quite a wide-ranging offer to Ripon Cathedral Chapter, which they are discussing. Our principal is an associate of the Royal College of Music. He is choral and music through and through; so there is an empathy there - and we have already built a £4-million choral, music, and drama centre."

In a statement, the Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd Keith Jukes, a choir-school governor, expressed his "deep sadness and devastation, shared with so many people in the city of Ripon, at the closure". He said: "Over the past three years, the Chapter of the cathedral has supported the school with a number of substantial loans, in order to try to buy time in which to find a solution. Tragically, this has not been possible. . . In the immediate days, our support must be for the staff of the school, and for the parents who are looking to find alternative places for their children for the start of the September term."

Cathedral officials say that they will continue the choir from September.

The chairman of governors at Cundall Manor, Sir Thomas Ingilby, said: "It is a great shame, as everybody could see the potential benefits of the merger, and hoped for a positive outcome; but it wasn't to be."

At a meeting on Monday, about 100 parents, former staff, and pupils voted to continue the fight to keep the school open. They called for the governors to sell part of the school's 11-acre playing field to a property developer to reduce its debts.

On Wednesday, the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral issued a statement announcing proposals for the 1000-year old Choral Foundation to continue in a new form.

"The Cathedral proposes to remodel the Choir through a new Choral Foundation with 24 boy and 24 girl Choristers. Choristers can be pupils from any school in Ripon and the surrounding area, opening up the possibility of being in the Cathedral Choir to many more children. The six existing professional Lay Clerks will continue to provide the Choir's adult voices, while the Director and Assistant Director of Music will continue to manage and direct the Choir. This unparalleled training will include vocal and musical coaching.

The Very Reverend Keith Jukes, Dean of Ripon, underlined the Cathedral's commitment to the continuing Choral Foundation: "This fresh vision enables us to build on and, indeed, improve the Cathedral's standing as a centre of choral excellence."

The Cathedral's Director of Music, Andrew Bryden, says, "We are lucky to have the most enthusiastic Choristers one could wish for and I am confident of their ability to rise to new challenges and to lead the new Choristers who will join us as we shape the Choir's future."

For more information, please contact the Director of Music, Andrew Bryden. Tel: 01765 603496. andrewbryden@riponcathedral.org.uk.

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