A children’s playgroup that has been caring for village youngsters since 1966 is in danger of closure.
The Staplehurst Under 5 Playgroup, which meets in the South Hall of the Village Centre in Staplehurst High Street, is in trouble.
It has been hit with a triple whammy.
The manager, Ali Hicks, has unfortunately had to take long-term sick leave.
The playgroup is running at under-capacity since a number of children left at the end of the summer term ahead of starting primary school.
And the fees the group receives from the government for supported children’s places aren't enough to cover the real cost.
The playgroup has issued a statement saying: “Our playgroup is currently in crisis.
“We are on the brink of closure due to extremely low funds.
“Our committee and staff are working flat out to try to secure as much income as we possibly can, through government funding, donations from local businesses and a brand new roster of fundraising ideas.
“Without us, Staplehurst will lose a valuable childcare resource.
“Local businesses need parents to come back to work and make their valuable contribution, but they can’t do that unless their children are cared for and nurtured by a setting such as ours.
“The closure of Staplehurst Under 5s would be a disaster.”
An emergency meeting of parents, staff and supporters was held last Thursday, where it was decided to have one more push to keep the playgroup open.
Otherwise, it might shut at the end of the December term.
The playgroup has stopped opening on Fridays as a cost-saving measure.
Laura Brown is a parent with a child in the playgroup, and also a recently joined committee member.
She said: “My daughter, Maisie, benefits so much from going to the playgroup, and it enables me to continue working – I work from home.
“There are 12 children registered to join at the start of the January term, which will help enormously, but they are all government-funded places.
“The staff will lose their jobs, and parents will find it very hard to find a place at any other facility in the village since they are all full...”
“The real problem is that what the government pays us – £4.50 an hour – is not sufficient. We charge paying parents £6 an hour and we intend to increase that to £6.50 in the New Year.”
The playgroup is a charity and does not seek to make a profit.
Ms Brown said: “It will be so sad if the playgroup closes. The staff will lose their jobs, and parents will find it very hard to find a place at any other facility in the village since they are all full.”
The playgroup is appealing for donations to help it stay afloat.
To make a gift, visit the group’s website here, and click the “Supporting the Playgroup” button.
The group said: “Please spare what you can to keep the cereal box mansions being made, the finger paintings on our fridges and the smiles on our children’s faces.”