Parents save nursery in financial straits

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A group of parents has banded together to save a nursery facing closure.

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Norwich Montessori Nursery School has been saved after a group of parents offered to help run it

Owner and manager Sarah Johnson wrote to parents at Norwich Montessori School in August to explain that funding challenges had made it impossible to continue and she would be closing the nursery.

However, a group of six parents offered to step in and help with administration, cleaning, gardening and fundraising.

The parents will help keep the nursery open for at least the next year, setting up an online fundraising page, organising fundraising events and approaching the local community for support.

Parent Clare Morton-Thomas said, ‘Essentially what we have done is pretty extreme. The aim is to keep the nursery open long-term by streamlining the business and making it more profitable. We just felt it was such a shame that this had happened to an Outstanding nursery that provides such a brilliant, nurturing and caring environment. The Government needs to rethink its funding strategy and invest in young children. I really had no idea before but this is happening all over the place.’

Ms Johnson, who has run Norwich Montessori School for 11 years, said in the last two to three years it had become increasingly difficult to keep the nursery going.

‘I’d been asking myself if I could make ends meet, and this term it wasn’t going to be possible to break even,' she said. 'I felt so undervalued as a practitioner and I think that is a general feeling in the sector. We have to maintain good practice, print out documents, attend courses, all at our own expense, and recruiting staff is difficult because of the money we can offer, which isn’t even bad for the sector.

‘I didn’t want to throw up my hands and say I couldn’t continue, but I didn’t think I could do another year.’

The 26-place term-time only nursery, which was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2015, offers 15 hours but not the 30 hours. Ms Johnson said the extra 20p per hour she would receive for offering the 30 hours was ‘not a lot to write home about’.

After parents offered their support, the first day of the new term at Norwich Montessori School was put back a week to allow preparations to be made to re-open for the next academic year. All the children who were due to attend next term will return.

For now, the parent group will not take on any official roles, but will provide voluntary help wherever they can at the nursery. Ms Johnson said the future was bright.

‘They have really taken the weight off my shoulders. I can concentrate on managing and running the nursery, while they can focus their connections and time on fundraising. It shouldn’t be the case that parents are doing this, but that’s the way it is.

‘I have my concerns about committee-led nurseries, but we are all finding our way with it and we will monitor it for a year and see how it progresses.

‘You never know, if we find a formula that works we might be able to help other nursery owners that are struggling, so they can get on with their jobs too. The main thing right now is we are not closing.’

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