Buckinghamshire Council defends £400k paid for Netflix's Heartstopper school filming

Burnham Park Academy shut in 2019 after it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and its intake fell. Credit: Google Maps/Netflix

A council has defended the £400,000 it was paid to film at a closed school for the Netflix series Heartstopper.

Three production companies have paid Buckinghamshire Council a total of £434,494 to film at Burnham Park Academy on Opendale Road since 2021/22.

The council, which revealed the figure under the Freedom of Information Act, insisted that the income was used to pay maintenance and security costs at the secondary school with "no profit being made from filming".

However, parents and campaigners in and around Burnham have criticised the filming and the continued closure of Burnham Park, which shut in 2019 after it was rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted and its intake fell.

The closure of the non-selective secondary school has left local children with limited options, especially for those unable to attend Burnham Grammar School, parents claim.

Lee Wignall, 41, said it was "disgusting to hear" of the council’s payment for filming, while he would be forced to send his 11-year-old out of the village to secondary school in September.

The father-of-two told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) he supported the reopening of Burnham Park.

He said: "It’s too late for my children now as one will be starting secondary school in September – possibly in Maidenhead – and my youngest isn’t far behind, but that school should definitely be re-opened, no question."

The decision to close Burnham Park was made by the Department for Education (DfE), rather than the council, which owns the site and has argued that its reopening "is not viable".

Three production companies have paid Buckinghamshire Council a total of £434,494 to film the Netflix drama. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA Archive/PA Images

However, parents like Lee, who is originally from Kent, insist that there is sufficient local demand from families in and around Burnham to sustain the school.

He said: "Bucks [Council] fudge the numbers for the amount of children who need a school as they only include kids in Burnham Village.

"The problem with that is, you have two big housing estates, The Priory and The Britwell, including all the estates around it, which although being Slough postcodes, are both walking distance to Burnham."

He added: "Living in the Lynch Hill part of the Britwell estate and considering Burnham Village to be my local High Street – my GP and dentist are there – it often feels like we get forgotten about by both Slough and Bucks when it comes to this school debate."

The Chair of Burnham Parish Council Cllr Marie Hammon also reacted to the money the council received from filming at the school, the closure of which she said had left the village "neglected, isolated and abandoned".

She told the LDRS: "It is tragic that the Burnham – and nearby Slough – young population are being let down by Bucks Council.

"They have to go by expensive coach to reach schools across counties. We are a large population, and we feel ‘dumped’ by our local council.

"I am astonished therefore that the council are making more than £400,000 from filming at the school.”

The council, which owns the freehold of Burnham Park’s buildings and playing fields, said it does not have a contract with any company and only issues short-term filming licences for the site.

Olivia Coleman and Stephen Fry are members of the Heartstopper cast. Credit: PA

The Bucks Free Press previously reported how Truham Boys Ltd was given one of these licences to film Netflix’s Heartstopper – codename 'Firework' – at Burnham Park in October.

Truham Boys Ltd – named after the fictional school in Heartstopper – is a subsidiary company of See-Saw Films, the production firm behind the Netflix series.

Following the company’s recent filming at Burnham Park, Cllr Hammon described the strong feelings of parents in Burnham that the school should be reopened.

She said: "The local community paid towards the sports hall and my experience of local children and their reaction to losing their school was heartbreaking.

"One single mother was very upset that her children could not walk to their local school when Burnham Secondary school closed."

Similar concerns from parents about not having a local secondary school have been raised by the ‘Burnham needs a secondary school’ campaign.

It argues that Burnham is the only place in Buckinghamshire to have a grammar school but no corresponding non-selective secondary school.

Non-selective means children do not have to pass entrance exams to attend school, unlike grammar schools, which require pupils to take the eleven-plus exam.

The campaign says it has gathered data and reviewed pupil numbers to show that there are enough local children who would attend Burnham Park if it re-opened.

However, a council education chief claimed in an email to a parent in September that its own data and information from the DfE show that Burnham pupil numbers are "unfortunately not enough to sustain a viable school".

This week, John Chilver, the council’s Cabinet Member for Accessible Housing & Resources, addressed the £400,000 the council is revealed to have received from filming at the school.

He told the LDRS: "Since the closure of the Burnham Park Academy in 2019, a decision that was made by the Department for Education, a small number of ad hoc filming opportunities have taken place at the location requiring short term licences.

"No long-term contract has been agreed with any organisation as the long-term future of the site is still being determined.

"The income made from these filming opportunities is used to offset the ongoing vacancy and security costs at the site, no profit is being made."

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