Ex-pupils of Mersey Street PS in Belfast make home in their old school

By Simon Hunter
BBC News

image captionMersey Street Primary School closed in 2006 but has now reopened as an apartment block.

Heading back to your old school - full of fond memories of some of the most influential moments of your life.

But what if you headed back to your school every evening? What if you lived in your old maths classroom?

That's exactly what a host of people are now doing in east Belfast.

The Mersey Street area has been massively redeveloped in the last decade. First, the old ship workers' homes were knocked down, the land lay unused for several years but is now home to 80 new housing executive homes.

And in the last few months the last piece of the jigsaw has fallen into place - Mersey Street Primary School has reopened after being successfully converted in a £33m development by Connswater Homes.

The school now houses 30 two-bedroom apartments opening onto a tree-lined central courtyard only vaguely reminiscent of the former playground.

The school closed in 2006 because of dwindling numbers but is a Grade B listed building and therefore the facade could not be significantly altered.

That left a potentially difficult and challenging project. But one Connswater Homes Chairman, Kevin Butler feels has been worth the effort.

"We are very pleased. It was a very difficult project all along but it has worked extremely well," he said.

"It was Grade B listed which brought with it lots of difficulties but we worked closely with the architects, Isherwood & Ellis, and the Environment Agency Historic Buildings unit, who both did a great job for us.

"All in all, even thought it was a long drawn out affair, at the end of the day it was worth the effort."

"Beautiful courtyard"

And it's people like Karen Massey who are reaping the rewards. The former Mersey Street pupil lives with her family in one of the apartments.

image captionThe 30 apartments open up onto a central courtyard.

"I went to the school, my mum went to the school and my two sisters went to the school," Karen said.

"I have still friends from primary school and we still see each other once a month. We're very close. We have very fond memories of the school and it's just great to be back in it.

"It's weird, it's strange. Everybody wants to see it. When they come in the door they're shocked because the corridors and everything have gone. Now it's a beautiful courtyard with lovely flowerbeds and trees."

Ellie Honeyford lives on the other side of the courtyard. She attended the school "too many years ago to remember" and so did her two children. She also worked as a dinner lady at the school.

"It does seem strange when you tell people 'I live in the school'," she said.

"But it's lovely. They have done a really good job of it and at night the courtyard is lovely when it's all lit up. It's beautiful."

For the decades Mersey Street Primary School was open most pupils would have been bursting to hear the last bell of the day and head home. Now, the former pupils are queuing up to live there.