A VICTORIAN school which closed for good in 2000 has been given a new lease of life and its former headteacher has praised its transformation.

Pat Francombe, the retired head of Gilberts Hill School in Old Town was so impressed by its conversion to ten luxury flats that she wrote to the Evening Advertiser to give developers Bower Mapson top marks.

She was head of the primary school in Dixon Street for 15 years before it was closed by Swindon Council in 2000, despite a campaign to save it by parents.

Mrs Francome has since retired to Wales but she took a look around the newly converted building with designer Peter Mapson of the developers.

In a letter to the Evening Advertiser she wrote: "May I say, after visiting Gilberts Hill School House, how impressed I am by the creativity and sensitivity that has been shown in the conversion of the school to apartments.

"I would have been the most severe of all critics if the building had lost its traditional outside appearance or inner warmth, but I was delighted with the standard of quality and workmanship which, together with the retention of period details, makes the project such a success."

Eight apartments have been developed within the main school building and two more in a newly built extension at the rear in an area which was once a toilet block and shelter.

The development has been on sale for a fortnight and so far half of the apartments have been sold.

The work took more than a year to complete and modern touches include electronic security gates at the entrance and landscaping around the school.

Designer Peter Mapson said: "It is very nice of Mrs Francome to write to the paper, she was quite taken by the building when she looked around.

"What's also nice is that a lot of our neighbours who have no intention of buying a flat have been in to have a look at how we have restored the building.

"Hopefully this will show we don't have to knock down to start again, we can regenerate the centre of town by refurbishing and remodelling."

The regeneration of the School might be a success but the closure was fought for 18 months by the parents of the infant school's 35 pupils.

The fight was even taken to the High Court, where the parents were granted legal aid arguing the council had got its sums wrong and there was a demand for the school. The bid failed in November 1999 when they were refused legal aid to appeal.