Bideford pre-school faces eviction

East-the-Water ‘lifeline’ to young mums must find new home or close after decades of service to the community

A PRE-SCHOOL described as a “diamond in the rough” and a “lifeline” to its local community, is facing closure next year after being given notice to vacate its premises.

Stepping Stones Pre-School must cut ties with East-the-Water Primary School and find new accommodation before March 30 next year after the school announced it was reclaiming the facilities for its growing intake of pupils.

But the decision has come as a shock to preschool staff and parents, who only found out the news after pupils were given a letter to take home to their parents.

“The parents of the school knew our fate before we had been told,” said pre-school manager Liz Cox.

“Although relations with the school have been totally nonexistent this year and we were beginning to feel unwelcome, this has come as a great shock to us all.

“Stepping Stones has served the community for 42 years and has a remarkable history of care and nurture to thousands of children passing through its hands.

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“Without this pre-school, there will be nowhere in East-the-Water for these very young children to attend.”

Stepping Stones began life as a playgroup set up in an old nissen hut by a group of well-meaning mums in 1968. Known as the Polyfield Preschool it was well-attended from the start and has helped thousands of local youngsters to take their first steps in the world.

When an offer to use an empty classroom at the primary school was made in 2005, those involved at the time recall the pre-school was assured of being a permanent part of the premises

Jill Fackrell, who worked at the pre-school for more than 20 years, said: “One of the things we kept going on about at the time was assurances that we wouldn’t be kicked out if the school needed to expand.

“It’s so sad; there has been so much work done by so many people to get the pre-school where it is today. People have cycled, walked, baked cakes and worked without pay to keep it going.

“It’s a real lifeline for young mums and I feel the pre-school has been taken in and let down by the primary school.”

In the letter, seen by the Gazette, Pam Orchard, chairman of governors at East-the-Water Primary School, said the building was needed to accommodate a rising demand for places and would be used as an additional Key Stage 2 classroom.

In a statement to the Gazette she said: “East-the-Water is a thriving and successful school and our numbers are rising rapidly.

“In September we will be providing a good education for 260 children – up from 168 two years ago.

“Our ambition is for every East-the-Water child to come to our school. This means we need more accommodation to cope with our existing numbers and the expected increase in numbers over the next few years.

“Unfortunately, that means we have had to take the hard decision to ask the pre-school to leave the accommodation we have been providing for them.

“To ensure they have sufficient time to find alternative accommodation, we are not asking them to leave until March 30 next year.

“Naturally we are sorry we have had to do this but our first priority must be to the children at the school now and those who will join them in the future.

“Already the head teacher is having to vacate her office from September to provide another classroom as we will be losing 26 Year 6 children this year but gaining 40 Reception children next term.”

Stepping Stones Pre-School is registered for 26 children and currently has more than 50 on its books. It is run by six qualified members of staff, two apprentices and at least three mums doing voluntary NVQ placements. It has been registered with Ofsted since 2006 and received a “satisfactory” early years inspection in March last year.

The pre-school provides childcare from as little as �2 per hour and has recently received funding status for two-year-olds.

“We offer affordable childcare in the heart of the community and once that is lost we are not going to get it back without a fight,” added Mrs Cox.

“We’ve got to fight for these children and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

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