CHILDREN from a West Devon village have hailed their caretaker a heroine after she scooped a prize for saving their schoolfrom burning down.

Kath Davey and husband Martin were awarded a BBC South West Award for calling the fire service when they discovered a blaze at 40-pupil Lamerton Primary late one night and, in the aftermath, helping the pupils to continue studying at the vilage hall — as she is a hall committee member.

Kath is also credited with helping the school survive at all in Lamerton, matching headteacher Melody Sterry’s determination to continue teaching until the school was rebuilt. Melody, Kath and Martin’s actions ensured pupils did not have to be dispersed among other schools — which could easily have led to its closure because of its size.

Kath and Martin were given a heroes’ welcome by the children and teachers after Kath and Melody were presented with the BBC Radio Devon Make a Difference award.

The fire broke out in early February from heater cabling at about 11pm.Kath said: “I’d just had a shower and Martin was in bed. I heard the alarm and thought it was a burglary. We only live four doors away, so quickly got dressed and rushed down the road. I unlocked the school and found smoke pouring through a bifold door from the classrooms. It was a bit scary. So we closed it quickly and called the fire service. They were great and arrived in 13 minutes. It was dreadful, the firemen blew the smoke out of the windows and doors and it was soon obvious the classrooms were badly smoke-damaged. There were no flames.

“The children’s chairs, a big window and the light coverings were all melted in the intense heat. We stayed there until 3 O’clock, making sure the fire brigade could access everywhere.”

The school then missed only one day of teaching because of Kath’s efficiency in rescheduling wedding receptions and many other events to host the school.

Melody said: “The truth is we owe the school’s survival physcially to Kath and Martin because they acted so quickly. She was then key to the school continuing in the village. If she hadn’t made sure we could move into the village hall, then into the grounds in ‘posh tents’ we would have been vulnerable to being closed down forever. If we’d allowed children to be dispersed by the county [council] to schools nearby, then that would have been the end.

“The parents were also important in showing how much they were behind us staying here. There was an outpouring of support from everyone in the village. I appealed for books for reading lessons. You can do without anything else, but not books and we were given hundreds. I was overwhelmed with the reaction with community fundraising to help buy resources, supplemented by my other school Gulworthy. Although it was a dreadful shock seeing the dreadful damage, we have come out of this emergency stronger.”

While two classrooms and a library needed rebuilding, the rebuild was slower than expected because asbestos was found in a wall.The school never missed another lesson, with lessons and SATS groups and exams happening in corridors and continued its ‘Silver Listeners Service’ which involves children reading stories to older residents, via phone instead of in person.

Guitar lessons were also held in corridors and World Book Day and the King’s Coronation was marked, weekly collective worship staged, a WI member’s 90th birthday marked with singing and the school leavers’ service staged.

Melody said: “I was constantly amazed at how resilient our children are. They weren’t fazed by learning in a new strange environment, their concentration was constant. At the school leavers’ performance the children spoke very matter-of-factly about the fire and the effect on them.

“If anything, they’d be excused for not doing as well, but in face it all excelled themselves. It was very tricky, nothing worked normally. The marquee ceiling moved with the wind, they were then very cold or very hot according to winter or summer weather.

“There were no interactive whiteboards or fancy presentations, because there was no WiFi and no landline for a while and no maths resources. We were forced to operate very simply in lessons and, amazingly, the children seemed to have benefited. It just shows how talented and adaptable our teachers are and the volunteers who help our school. I’m so grateful to them all.”

The Church of England school reopened in mid-July with a special prayer led by the village priest the Rev Andy Atkins at the village hall. He then led the children and parents in a walk to their renovated school where the oldest boy Isaac cut a ceremonial ribbon to mark their return.

At the beginning of September a special blessing by the Bishop of Exeter James Grier was staged and an official reopening held.

The bad luck continued when a teacher broke his collar bone and Melody badly twisted her ankle forcing her to miss the reopening.

Melody said: “I was determined our school would be finished to reopen before the end of the summer term, so the Year 6 children could have closure from the disruption to their lives and also to reassure the children staying on that the school would be back to normal when they came back for the autumn term.”