Parents and teachers at St James Hatcham Nursery in New Cross, which is threatened with closure, have started a campaign to raise its profile and encourage more children to attend.
On May 2 parents were told the nursery will close in August as the small amount of students means it is no longer financially able to stay open. Concerned parents have now launched a campaign to make local families more aware of the pre-school, which up to now has had no internet presence.
Esther Brown, a parent of a child at the nursery, is one of the leaders campaigning against its closure. She told Eastlondonlines: “It will be an absolute travesty if it goes, it will be awful.”
There are 26 pupils currently enrolled at the nursery but this number must reach 50 by the end of August in order for the school board to prevent its closure. This gives the parents running the campaign only a month to raise awareness and increase student intake.
Brown pointed out that many parents have already found nurseries for their children by this time of the year. “I know a lot of nurseries have accepted pupils already or will be saying so in the next few weeks, which makes our challenge much more difficult.”
The first and main objective of the campaign is to raise awareness of the nursery, said Brown: “People just aren’t aware of St James Hatcham Nursery. I did a quick Google search and it didn’t come up in any of my searches. I went on to the website of the main school, which the nursery is part of, but they didn’t even have a page about the nursery department.
“There’s nothing on social media if you go on to Lewisham council, nothing. So you just can’t find it. Unless you actually walk past it and saw the sign you wouldn’t know it’s there.”
The campaign began instantly after finding out about the potential closure earlier this month. Brown continued: “What we argued to a member of the school board, was that if you actually give us an opportunity to put some stuff up, publicise a little bit, we might have a chance. I honestly think that if people saw that it was there, they would see how great it is. I think that it would be oversubscribed.
“It’s so close to transport links. It’s right opposite the station and there are bus routes, so it’s really convenient for parents who are going to work. The nursery has been there for 17 years and has a real ‘villagey’ feel. There is something very different and special about this nursery.
“I have actually had the option of taking my son out because we have a nursery closer to where we live, but purposefully I want to keep him here. We made that decision because we really liked it. Just for my own peace of mind, that he is happy and he is somewhere that he likes, that he gets on with the teachers, and that he has a lovely day at school.
“All those kinds of things are really important when you are a parent. Because you may feel guilty, that you are working and sending your child to nursery, it’s a difficult feeling, so to know that he is being well taken care of and he’s happy is a huge thing.”
Another parent, Fiona Adisa, is also leading the campaign. She told Eastlondonlines: “When I drop my daughter off I see children running into school saying: ‘Good morning Mrs Gabbidon!’ Then they give their teacher a hug. When does that ever happen? I think it’s absolutely amazing. It makes me very comfortable leaving them there.”
One of the key reasons parents are so concerned about this nursery closing, is the lack of non fee-paying nurseries in the area. There is only one equivalent nursery in the area which, according to Adisa, means “the other nursery could face complete over-subscription, which could leave some people no choice but to pay…We need this nursery!”
Head teacher of the connected primary school, Sonia McFarlane, said: “The nursery is unique, special and comforting; the perfect environment for learning. We are not surrounded by residential properties so do not naturally get a mass of children living locally, so it can be hard for potential pupils and their families to discover us.
“We are on a quiet street surrounded by university housing. What we offer, an oasis of calm in the middle of a busy New Cross, will be lost if we have to make the decision to close as a result of low pupil numbers. This will be a real loss to the community.”
The primary school has tried to advertise its nursery in the local area, but is disadvantaged due to its ‘tucked away’ location, and has therefore not had much success. The school has advertised in the local GP’s newsletter, put a large banner on the road, as well as developed a website for the nursery, but hasn’t had much of an effect, according to McFarlane.
There is still a chance to save the nursery and the decision to close it has not officially been fully made. McFarlane says: “Teachers and parents have been informed of the very high possibility that the nursery will be closed in August. However the board of governors need to approve the decision and even once the decision has been made, it can be overturned any time before August 31, if it is deemed reasonable to do so.”
Hilary Gabbidon-Ellis has worked at the nursery since it opened 17 years ago. He told Eastlondonlines: “I think the fact that I have been here so long speaks for itself. I love my job. I find it so rewarding. I believe I make a difference in the lives of the children and adults. I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I am here for them, especially when they have grown up and return to the nursery recalling the good times they’ve had here, or asking for advice. It’s been an honour working here.
“I too would be very sorry to see it closed. We have been told that the mounting cost of running the nursery and the low numbers of children enrolling have brought it to this point. The closure will take place in August this year if the nursery is not full i.e. with at least 45-50 students.
“However, we are hoping that this push of advertising will bring the nursery into the limelight. Our parents are right in front of us leading the campaign and I am right behind them supporting where I can.”
Esther Brown agrees: “I would hate for it to go unless we had done everything that we can.”