A campaign is under way to save the Rocking Horse Day Nursery on the Grange School & Sports College campus in Warmley after South Gloucestershire Council ordered it to leave by Christmas.
More than 50 devastated parents and staff met at the nursery last night to launch a campaign to save it. More than 500 people have already signed a petition.
The nursery school at Tower Road North has cared for thousands of children since it opened in 1992. It currently cares for almost 70 children, aged between nine months and four years and employs around 20 members of staff, several of whom have been there since the 1990s.
It is also home to the Mini Meals business, which makes and delivers healthy meals to children in he Bristol area, including university nurseries.
The decision to close the Grange was taken in March 2015 and was based on the 600 surplus places and because the buildings, which dated from 1970, needed urgent works of more than £8m, plus £2m of non-priority works.
A report about the future of the site is going to the council’s Children, Adults & Health Committee next Wednesday but it makes no mention of Rocking Horse Nursery.
However, it does seek councillors’ permission to bring forward the closure of the school from 31st August 2017 to 31st October 2016. The school has no pupils after the remaining ones left at the end of the summer term.
The council served notice to nursery owner Julia Davies in the summer, requesting the nursery be out by Christmas. Parents and staff are now facing the challenge of either finding new premises for the nursery from the end of the year or finding alternative childcare provision and employment.
Mrs Davies said: “Over the past three years, since The Grange School went into special measures, I have continually asked what is going to happen to our premises only to be told each time ‘we don’t know what is happening’. Had I been told three years ago that we needed to vacate by the end of 2016, I would have had the opportunity to plan for the future and relocate.”
Mrs Davies says she doesn’t understand where this decision has come from as the council has invested thousands in the outdoor area and recently requested she apply for a grant to help cover the grant for the increased 30 hours’ Government funded childcare from September 2017. She says that Rocking Horse is one of a handful of local nurseries with the capacity to deliver the 30 free hours.
“We’ve tried to find out what their plans are so we can speak with the new owners and request to stay on but no one knows. We desperately want a new lease to stay in what has been our home for quarter of a century now. The parents are as upset as we the staff are.”
Mum and writer Laura Williams, whose three-year-old son has attended the nursery since he was 10 months old, said: “I’m absolutely disgusted with how short-sighted the council is being here. Flexible nursery provision is so hard to come by these days – I live in Bristol but had to venture into South Gloucestershire, near where I work, to find somewhere decent for my son. The Rocking Horse Nursery is brilliant. The premises are great and the staff are exceptional. To think we might lose this is heartbreaking.
“I’ve already phoned around other local nurseries and pre-schools but I’ve not found anyone with space for the days and hours I need to be able to stay in my job. I don’t know what I’m going to do if the council succeeds in booting out the nursery. I thought councils were meant to care for the people who live and work in their area, especially children – clearly not this one.”
Today a council spokesperson told The Week In: “The nursery has been using some spare accommodation at The Grange School for some time.
“We have kept the owners fully informed about the decision to close the school site since a decision was taken in March 2015. As part of these discussions, we stressed the need for the nursery to find alternative premises and supported them in their search, including offering replacement accommodation. The nursery was formally served notice, dated 29th June this year and given until December 2016 to find an alternative home.
“If any parents have concerns about finding a new nursery place they can call us on 01454 868008.”
The nursery tonight confirmed that it was shown a site in Cadbury Heath last year but it was not suitable, and said it had not been kept in the loop by the council and had hoped that any future tenant of the site might be keen to keep the nursery there.
The report going to the committee next week says the original closure date of 31st August 2017 was to allow a transitional period for students but at the end of the last school year in July, all remaining pupils had left either because they had reached the school leaving age or because they had transferred to other schools.
The report says: “The Grange School & Sports College remains in legal existence but has no pupils on roll and no staff, other than a very small temporary number concerned with the on-going administration of the sports facilities on site.
“The continued use of site and buildings raises issues of interim management and expenditure, including rates and services, which will have to be addressed in any event. However, the ending of ‘school status’ would help to clarify these matters.
“Provisional arrangements are in place for the interim management of the site and buildings (including sports facilities), the disposal of re-usable fixtures, fittings and equipment, the safeguarding of records as appropriate and the secure disposal of unwanted records. Arrangements are being made for ongoing pupil and staff matters, including examination results and certification and transfer of records, reports and references. The long-term future of the site and buildings will be the subject of further reports to committee in due course.”
The redundancy costs following the closure of Grange College are estimated at £875,000, according to the report..
The Digitech Studio School has opened on the Grange campus. It sits alongside Warmley Park School, which caters for children with special needs.