Playgroups in the Roe Valley area have expressed serious concerns about funding with some under threat of closure while others have been forced to reduce staffing levels and hours.
At a meeting in Drumsurn last Thursday, representatives from playgroups met to discuss changes to the amount of funding they receive and how they access that funding.
Marie McCutcheon, leader at ‘Little Rascals’ in Drumsurn, said they’ve had to temporarily lay off one member of staff, while other staff have had to reduce their hours. She said dedicated staff are, however, working above what they should, to maintain an “excellent quality of service”.
Mrs. McCutcheon said they’re being proactive and applying for funding through other means as well as asking local businesses for help.
At Magilligan Playgroup, playgroup leader Angela Begley said the changes and cuts to funding could mean a reduction in hours for staff or possibly losing a member of staff.
“You’re talking about rural, isolated areas where there is no other childcare. Families in rural areas need these services.
“All the groups in Limavady are over-subscribed as it is. Where else are they expected to go?” said Mrs. Begley.
Banagher Playgroup Trustee, Sarah Wallis said they need to raise £12,500 to help plug the shortfall for this year, taking children up to June 2017, and to stay open from June 2017 to June 2018.
Banagher Plagroup, due to the shortfall, have said a dedicated member of staff that worked within the playgroup for over 20 years has had to be made redundant.
All those who spoke with the ‘Journal’ agree there needs to be equality between playgroups in the community and voluntary sector with nurseries in a statutory setting.
Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald and her colleague Sinn Fein Colr. Brenda Chivers attended the meeting in Drumsurn.
“These playgroups play an important role within the communities they serve,” said Ms Archibald.
“Childcare is vital not only in enabling parents to work, but is an important part of child development and therefore needs to be adequately supported.”
Colr. Chivers said playgroups in rural areas are vital and need support. She said for many families there is no other option, especially if they don’t have a car or have access to regular transport.
Despite the challenging times, each of the representatives that spoke with the ‘Journal’ said they’re determined to remain optimistic about their future.
Mrs McCutcheon said they have a lot to look forward to with their new ‘Space & Place’ project will turn their playschool into a community hub, which will increase the capacity for the group to take in more children for the playschool, but it will also offer a wide range of classes and courses.
Ms Wallis said they’re “really pleased and grateful as a playgroup with the positive response from our local community”, and are “optimistic that with the positivity shown, and with the community supporting us, we might make our £12.5K fundraising target to allow us to stay open next year”.