TRIBUTES have been paid to the founder of one of East Lancashire’s longest-established dance schools who died aged 81 last week.

Pat Wilson set up the Pat Eakets School of Dance and Drama in a scout hut in Blackburn after moving from Liverpool in 1966.

Mrs Wilson died on Friday after a short illness in Lytham where she had retired.

Her dance school, which had 350 pupils at its height, later moved to Richmond Terrace, then the upper floor of Tony’s Ballroom in King William Street before moving to the Wesley Hall and now The Bureau Arts Centre and Salesbury Memorial Hall.

The school, which taught ballet, tap and modern jazz, supplied troupes for pantomimes in Blackburn and Oswaldtwistle and held an annual Dancearama show at King George’s Hall.

Former Rishton resident Mrs Wilson, whose husband Robert died some years ago, leaves two sons Simon and Nick and a daughter Saffron who has three children of her own.

Current principal Becky Herbert is former child pupil of the school who returned to teach there after a professional career dancing on cruise ships.

The 46-year-old said: "I am devastated at the loss of Miss Eakets as will be hundreds of people whose lives she has touched during her teaching career.

“She was phenomenal and a force to be reckoned with.

“The school has been part of the community for more than 50 years bringing joy through her dedication and inspiration.”

Former pupil turned professional photographer Scott Jackson, 27, posted details of her death on Facebook which have been viewed 20,000 times.

He said: “Thanks to Pat’s determination, focus and drive the school is currently one of the oldest dance schools in Blackburn and has boasted more success stories than we care to count with her pupils going far and wide from performing on cruise ships to Broadway and television roles.

“Even if you never had Miss Eakets as a teacher, if you were taught by one of her pupils, they all carried a little bit of her with them in one way or another.

“Many of us have lots to thank her for. Even after she stood down as principal she still kept the school and all of us who were part of it, and made it what it was, in her mind even as she went onto a new role in life – being a fabulous grandmother!”

Facebook tributes included: “Sad news! Lovely lady”; “She was a lovely woman, my daughter loved her classes"; and “She was my first ballet teacher. She must have had the patience of a saint as I was like a baby elephant!”