Villagers angry over the loss of their community centre have targeted staff at a newly-opened children’s nursery there.
Little Barn Owls Nursery moved this week into Easteds Barn in Southwater after the local parish council voted last year to lease out the building.
Hundreds of residents signed a protest petition at the loss of the community building which had been used for a variety of local activities.
And as staff and youngsters moved into the refurbished building this week, feelings were still runnning high among some.
Little Barn Owls’ owner Hayley Peacock said two members of staff had had the tyres of their cars tampered with and children had been approached ‘aggressively.’
She said she had been ‘quite baffled’ when one villager shouted: ‘You have stolen our barn.’
She said: “It was not my decision to commercially let the barn. I am just a tenant who took the lease on because Southwater needs child day care.”
She said the parish council had decided to lease it out long-term because it wasn’t previously economically viable.
Little Barn Owls had needed to move from its previous premises in Church Lane because their building there was being demolished.
Hayley said while most immediate neighbours had been welcoming and understanding during months of renovation works at the barn, others had displayed ‘anti social behaviour.’
She said that tampering with staff members’ car tyres was “extremely upsetting and criminal. We have also had staff and children approached several times aggressively. This has been reported to the police.”
She added: “We would like to be great neighbours and exist harmoniously with everyone, as well as providing Southwater with a fantastic childcare facility for all local families to benefit from.”
She said that since posting photos of the new nursery on social media, she had received ‘a massive host of support which is really warming my heart.’
Little Barn Owls - which also runs ‘forest schools’ - is an award-winning nursery with branches in Horsham and at Farlington School, as well as Southwater.
Hayley first launched the business 10 years ago. The Southwater nursery has been rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
Hayley paid tribute to building firm TMC Construction which carried out the renovation works at Easteds Barn. She said the company and owner Michael Smith “have been fantastic.”