A long established Southwater playgroup which has been looking after youngsters in the area for many years has closed.
Holy Innocents has seen hundreds of toddlers come through its doors but said goodbye to its final set of children last week.
The group was based in the Church Rooms at Southwater Parish Church in Church Lane and was hiring the hall from the local Parochial Church Council.
Cathy Walden, who runs Holy Innocents, said: “Regrettably, having existed on a verbal hire agreement with the Parochial Church Council (PCC) for 18 years, I could not negotiate suitable terms in the written contract that the PCC were bringing in for hiring the hall.
“We have achieved two ‘Good’ Ofsted ratings, and two ‘Outstanding’ under my ownership, and clearing every night to two sheds in the dark and the rain is just not an option as it would compromise the quality of the service we deliver.
“Not signing the contract, I was told would trigger a three month notice to vacate the premises, and so in order for our children to find alternative pre-school spaces early on in the academic year, I decided to close at half term.”
Revd. Dr. Godfrey Kesari, vicar at Southwater Parish Church and chairman of the Parochial Church Council, said: “The PCC of Southwater Parish Church received with regret the notice of Holy Innocents Playgroup (HIPG) earlier this month.
“After many years a financial arrangement had been discussed with the playgroup since April 2018, this had been agreed to.
“Additionally, since April we asked all hirers of the hall to sign a written agreement of hire. We note with sadness that HIPG were unable to sign the agreement. At the time of notice being given indeed many of the requirements were being met and it was our belief that agreement would be reached.
“We appreciate this is a difficult situation and time for many and are willing to talk to anyone affected further on an individual basis.”
Cathy said some form of playgroup had been running at the Church Rooms since 1970. She took over the site from Jill Robins 18 years ago and the group has looked after more than 400 children in that time.
Cathy said she was very sad to be closing the playgroup.
She said: “I would like to thank, on behalf of my very dedicated team and myself, all the parents and carers both past and present, for the very beautiful and thoughtful words, cards and gifts that we have all received.
“We are truly touched by the support and love you have shown our little playgroup community. We have had families with us (on and off!) as they have placed their children in our care; one for as many as 17 years! Our first children to attend in 2000 are turning 21 in this academic year! So we would like to say a final goodbye and thank you to you all, wherever you may be and whatever you are doing and say good luck for the future.”
She added: “While every child is special and different, Holy Innocents Playgroup (HIPG), have also supported many children with differing needs and gave them a ‘mainstream’ experience which I believe passionately about, in order to help them develop to be the best that they can be as early as possible in their formal educational life.”