Thursday, 25 February 2021

Pre-school hanging on in lockdown despite losses

THE pre-school in Wargrave is bidding to survive beyond the end of the coronavirus lockdown.

It is losing money despite still being open and being given a rent holiday on its building in the recreation ground by the parish council.

Now it is hoping to negotiate a new long-term lease agreement with the council, which turned down an application for a £10,00 grant.

It has also applied for a £3,000 grant from Wokingham Borough Council, which is offering a total of £100,000 to help nurseries and pre-schools across the borough.

It does receive funding for providing 15 hours of free childcare a week but this does not cover the running costs.

It has only managed to lift the threat of closure thanks to an online auction which raised £1,359 and parent Emily Childs raising £1,000 by walking 12,000 steps every day in December.

The pre-school, which is the only one in the village and was started in 1980, is a registered charity run by a committee of volunteers.

It has remained open during the latest national lockdown with an average of 20 children attending but that is only two-thirds of its full roll as some parents have decided not to send their children back during the pandemic.

Administrator Sam Barnard said: “We were in a situation earlier this year where if we didn’t do something we were in danger.

“If we hadn’t gone to the council and it hadn’t given us a break on our rent, we would have really struggled. The problem we’ve got — like all pre-schools — is that we’re funded by the Government for 15 hours but it just doesn’t meet our costs.

“Because of the pandemic, we’ve not been able to do any of our normal fundraising activities and there is quite a gap between the money we get and what it costs us to look after the children. There is probably a shortfall of £12,000.

“With covid and the extra costs of testing twice a week and PPE we have to pay for, that gap just gets bigger.

“The funding made available by Wokingham demonstrates that they understand the pressure that pre-schools and early years establishments are under, which is brilliant from our point of view.

“We’re negotiating our lease with the parish council and the rent break has been fundamental in saving us for the immediate future.”

Mrs Barnard, of Blakes Lane, Hare Hatch, started working at the pre-school in September at the same time as her son Harrison, four, started at Robert Piggott Infant School having previously attended the pre-school.

She said: “It is the only pre-school in Wargrave and there aren’t any childminders either.

“This is somewhere for children to meet new friends that they will subsequently have at school, so in that respect it is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you would have to send your child to Twyford or
Sonning.

“It makes it all worthwhile that the parents are so happy with how well their children develop here and that is down to the hard work off all the staff.

“The parish council have been very helpful in helping us survive and we hope to have a longer lease that will give us more flexibility. The local community has been brilliant as well by making donations and now we have Wokingham Borough Council stepping up to help us — it is amazing the support we have had from everybody.”

The pre-school would normally benefit from the village festival, which was due to be held this year but was cancelled due to the
pandemic.

Emma Clegg, who is managing the pre-school while manager Kirsty Butler is on maternity leave, said: “I have been given this responsibility to keep this place going.

“We are the beginning of what children need and provide interaction with other children and that is particularly important during the pandemic.

“My love for this place is immense and the parents have a lot of trust in me to keep it going and I hope I have delivered. I am from Maidenhead but have been made to feel like part of the community. The village has got behind us.”

To make a donation, text “WPS” to 70085 to give £5 plus your standard network charge. If you have any ideas for fundraising or can help, email info@wargravepreschool.com

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