Why was Lagan College founded?
Lagan College was founded in 1981 as a religious response to the challenge of community conflict and a religiously divided school system in Northern Ireland. Since 1974 the All Children Together Movement (ACT) had been lobbying the Churches and the Government to take the initiative in educating Protestant and Catholic children together. Religious segregation of school children was almost complete. Practically all Catholic children attended catholic schools. State schools were de facto Protestant. ACT argued that one of the most powerful responses which Christians could give to the charge that the fighting was about religion would be for Protestants and Catholics to educate their children together in the same schools.
By 1981 there had been virtually no initiatives from either the Churches or government in the direction of integration at school level. A small group of parents with children at the age of transfer from primary to secondary school decided to take the initiative. With the support of ACT they called a public meeting in February 1981 and founded a new school in September. They called the new school Lagan College after the river which flows through Belfast. It opened in temporary premises at Ardnavally Activity Centre beside the river Lagan in South Belfast, thanks to the hospitality of the Scout Movement.
On the first day there were 28 pupils, the Principal, Mrs. Sheila Greenfield, one full-time teacher and five part-time teachers. The college became homeless that Christmas but was able to move in time for the start of the Easter term to a redundant primary school at Castlereagh on a hill-top overlooking Belfast from the South-east for September.
How was the college developed?
From September until Halloween in 1983/4 the new first year pupils, thanks to the hospitality of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, were taught in the Manor House at Cultra until a new building was ready. For the first three years, the College, which aimed to serve the whole community – rich and poor alike – received no Government funding. Parents of pupils contributed what they could afford towards the costs.
Over £500,000 had to be raised, so an appeal for benefactions by private individuals and charitable trusts locally and around the world was launched to bring the College to the point where it could develop into an economically viable institution. Maintained status was granted in 1984. This meant 100% of running costs were met by the Department of Education and the College governors were responsible for 15% of capital expenditure.
From 1985 to 1987, again because of accommodation difficulties, the 98 new First Year pupils were taught several miles away from Castlereagh in the Balmoral area of South Belfast in premises shared with the newly opened Forge Integrated Primary School. A permanent home for the College was eventually found not far from Castlereagh at Lisnabreeny, this time thanks to the hospitality of the National trust. The first temporary buildings were opened at Lisnabreeny in September 1987. The travelling between the two, continued until September 1991 when the first phase of the permanent school building was opened.
Following new legislation in 1989 concerned with the development of integrated education under the then Minister, Dr Brian Mawhinney, the College became a Grant-Maintained Integrated School in 1991. This means that 100% of the costs, recurrent and capital, are now funded directly by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland.
As of January 2017, there are 1270 pupils on the Lisnabreeny site with more than 150 staff.
In 2003 Lagan College sought to be considered for a new build programme under the Department of Education’s Private Finance initiative. After many years in the planning, permission was finally granted on 14th April 2011 to complete the permanent buildings on the Lisnabreeny site. Construction work was completed on June 17th 2013 by GRAHAM Construction on a state of the art, multi-million pound facility. This marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the history of Northern Ireland’s first planned integrated school’s history.