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Cash shortage threatens playgroup

PUBLISHED: 15:30 02 April 2008 | UPDATED: 08:54 13 July 2010

UNCERTAINTY over cash to build a new base is blighting a long-established village playgroup, according to supporters.

Neatishead and Barton Playgroup has planning permission for a new building but cannot get a firm funding promise from Norfolk County Council for between £50,000 and £55,000.

UNCERTAINTY over cash to build a new base is blighting a long-established village playgroup, according to supporters.

Neatishead and Barton Playgroup has planning permission for a new building but cannot get a firm funding promise from Norfolk County Council for between £50,000 and £55,000.

The indecision puts a question mark over the future of the 33-year-old playgroup, which meets in Neatishead's dilapidated Victory Hall, according to spokeswoman Jane Russell.

Parents of some six local children took them elsewhere, shocked by the condition of the hall, described by a government Ofsted inspector in 2006 as “the worst environment she had ever witnessed a pre-school group operating in,” said Mrs Russell.

“We seem to be on a downward spiral where numbers will continue to drop because of the poor environment until we can no longer remain viable.”

In January 2007 the playgroup was granted SureStart funding for its new home, in the grounds of Neatishead School, but the cash had to be spent within three months and planning permission was not granted in time.

Since then the playgroup had struggled on, coping with poor heating, a leaking roof, a cramped outside play area and having to haul equipment in and out of storage for every session, said supervisor Janine Gauvain.

“All we ever get from the county council is 'maybe'. We are desperate to move and we're losing heart. We do wonder whether we will be able to carry on,” she said.

“It would be such a shame for the community to lose the playgroup. It's a place where mums can meet and children can get to know others in the village - and there are some parents who can't drive elsewhere.”

Victory Hall chiefs are hoping for a lottery grant to start building a new hall in the autumn but the playgroup committee says it would not meet modern Ofsted expectations.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb visited the playgroup recently and said he would be contacting the county council.

“The frustration for the group is that the county council awarded funding last year so it must have accepted the basis of their case,” he said.

“The facilities are clearly inappropriate. We should be trying to ensure children can stay in their own village, particularly if parents have not got access to a car.”

Kate Gooding, spokeswoman for the council's children's services, said they acknowledged the importance of the playgroup as a respected local childcare provider.

She added: “This playgroup is a priority for the Northern Area Early Years Team and we will be working with them during the coming months to look very carefully at how the accommodation problems can best be addressed taking into account other local developments. We will look at what support may be available from a number of sources.”

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