As we enter a new decade it’s also a new start for pupils and staff at Peebles High School.

Towards the end of 2019 they ran from their burning school to safety and watched in horror as the building went up in flames. Aghast townsfolk witnessed the black smoke billowing into the air from miles away.

Two months since that day, the students of this school walked back into the building they call “home” more resilient than ever.

The day before their return, Reporter Hilary Scott, toured the transformed school and spoke to Rector Campbell Wilson, who reflected on the aftermath of the fire and what the future holds for Peebles High School.

SUNDAY mornings are normally a day of rest, but I arrive at Peebles High to witness a hive of activity, from contractors, council workers and cleaners, busy getting the school ready for pupils to return the next day.

I enter the school slightly bewildered, as there’s no lingering smell of smoke from the tower or any visible trace of devastation from the fire. But after witnessing the harrowing sight of the demolished gymnasium and art rooms, the reality of November’s fire is clear to see.

The assembly room is immaculate, rows of seats neatly lined up which would soon be occupied by pupils. Outside I head into the modular buildings which are modern, spacious, fit for purpose classrooms and will house maths and art students.

Throughout the school, contractors are finishing rooms re-designed for extra teaching space. I recall the words of the Chief Executive of Scottish Borders Council Tracey Logan, who said at a recent public meeting they’d “go to the wire” to be ready for the pupils return and she was right about that.

Scenes of contractors busily working throughout the school remind me of the television programme 60 minute makeover, but on a much larger scale.

Before leaving the school I sat down with Rector Campbell Wilson and asked him how he felt about being back at Peebles High.

“It’s exciting. It’s been a really challenging few months since the end of November with the fire. I don’t think our staff, our young people, and Scottish Borders Council for that matter, have ever worked so hard with one vision and been so well supported by our community,” said Mr Wilson.

He added: “The school community feels different. We feel much more connected to our community because we have been in church halls and community spaces doing the best to deliver the very best learning experience that we could, and that was a challenge, not ideal and not what we would’ve wanted.

“But then there are the unexpected benefits that come with that. We feel much closer to our community. It’s just been quite staggering the way people have supported us, whether it’s been local coffee shops and chocolate shops sending gifts to staff in the middle of the day to keep their spirits up when things were very fresh in November and December, to donations that we’ve had from local businesses.”

Mr Wilson says he feels a different connection to the Peebles community. “I’ve been bowled over with just how the whole of Tweeddale has rallied round our school in our time of need, it makes you feel really resilient when you know everyone’s there to support you and pulling in the same direction.”

Resilience is personified by the Rector of this secondary school, who experienced the devastation of the Lockerbie bombing as a young boy, and survived a stroke 2017.

I asked Mr Wilson how he felt the pupils of Peebles High coped following the fire. “They are role models of resilience. We don’t want these tests to come along, tests to see how resilient our young people are, but that’s why we want our young people to be resilient, because we never know what life is going to throw at us, as this fire has shown.

“I doubt there’s a group of young people anywhere in the nation that could’ve coped the way our young people have. They are so focused on their learning, and so grateful for the learning opportunities they get, and they are a pleasure and a delight to be with everyday.”

Looking to what the future holds for the secondary school, Mr Wilson said: “We are a very ambitious school. We want our young people to be ambitious and that ambition is still there. We move forward into a future where we don’t have the same building, but a school isn’t about buildings, it’s about our community. I think we’re a stronger community, and therefore we are a stronger school as a result of the traumatic fire in November.

“If we can harness that positivity and community spirit going forward, there’s nothing we can’t achieve as a school, and our young people will go on to have great attainment, great achievement, great sporting success . It feels great to be back in the building today and we can’t wait for learning to start.”

Looking forward to seeing his pupils on Monday, Mr Wilson told us: “I just know where I’ll be. I’ll be out at the front of the school under the welcome to Peebles High School sign and I’ll be making sure every pupil gets the warmest welcome back. I can’t wait to see them.”

The following day I drove through Peebles. Pupils were heading in the right direction, as were buses transporting students who live outwith the town, but most importantly, Peebles High School is heading in the right direction to a bright future.

And, just as promised, the man waiting to greet them at the door as they entered the school for the first time since November, was their role model of resilience, Mr Campbell Wilson.