Westminster nurseries told: cough up fees or face closure

Council cuts force pre-schools to charge parents leaving poor families vulnerable

Two St John’s Wood nurseries may be forced to close and children of poorer families will be pushed out after Westminster Council axed their funding.

Church Street nursery and Barrow Hill pre-school had been assisted by the Westminster Pre-School Learning Alliance, which is set to close in June due to council funding cuts, meaning both nurseries must hike up fees – or face closure.

The cuts are part of the council’s review of voluntary sector funding.

Church Street Nursery, in Boldero Place, was last month ranked ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in all 17 categories it was judged in.

Manager Gaynor Wheeler said: “We have lost �100,000 in grant funding from Westminster Council. The impact is that we will now have to look at charging fees to parents.

“We are a charity so we are about supporting families in deprivation.

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“We’ll still try to do that but for us to carry on we will have to recreate that funding through parents’ fees.”

Barrow Hill manager Stella Torres said: “Because of these cuts we have lost some grants. For that reason we need to increase the fees.

“We used to charge a very affordable price. Now we still provide a full day’s care, but we have to increase the fees by 55 per cent.

“We are in the middle of a council estate. It’s attended by all different backgrounds. Some people are very well off, some people are on benefits.”

The cuts took effect at the start of the new financial year and while children currently at Church Street will be able to continue without the new fees, any new youngsters taken on will be charged.

At Barrow Hill, which caters for a total of 32 children every day, the cost of a full day’s care will rise from �56 to �87.

Candice Pradhan, 42, whose daughter attends Barrow Hill, said: “A few of us can afford it, but for those who can’t I don’t know.

“As parents we are running around trying to get funding. I have printed a leaflet and gone around the local area to shops to let them know. We aren’t looking for crazy amounts of money.”

Church Street manager Ms Wheeler says the change will mean the nursery will inevitably have to look further afield for pupils as many local parents who traditionally use the nursery are out of work and will be unable to afford the fees.

“If everybody is losing their jobs the last thing people will want is to pay fees for childcare,” she said.

“We will no longer have the capacity to serve a lot of the people from the local area.

“If we find enough parents willing to then hopefully we’ll be ok to carry on but if not – watch this space.

“We want to continue – this is the future generation we are teaching.”

The latest Ofsted report is the second time in a row the nursery, which caters for up to 20 children aged two to five, has been ranked ‘outstanding’ following its last report in 2007.

The recent Ofsted report states: “Children are consistently supported so that no group or individual is disadvantaged.

“They are exceptionally supported to make the best possible progress in their learning and development and to promote their welfare successfully.”

A Westminster Council spokesman said: “Both nurseries have funding until June. A decision is expected to be made at the end of April on their future funding.”