Visionary founder of the Pre-school Learning Alliance leaves 'an incredible legacy'

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Belle Tutaev, who started the early years organisation, has died at the age of 90.

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Belle Tutaev at the Pre-school Learning Alliance's 50th anniversary in 2011

Belle Tutaev founded the Alliance in 1961 after writing to The Guardian newspaper detailing the challenges she had faced as a young mother in finding suitable childcare for her own children.

In the letter, she called for a national petition to be presented to the minister of education, demanding more nursery schools and play facilities for the under-fives.

belle-tuteavMs Tutaev received more than 150 letters from people wanting to establish pre-school groups and some already running them, and collected around 4,000 signatures for her petition.

The following year, she organised the first Annual General Meeting of the Pre-school Playgroups Association, as the Alliance was then known, which had amassed 150 members.

By 1966 it had 1,300 members and had opened its first office. The same year, Ms Tutaev, who remained president of the charity, retrained as a teacher and moved to Bristol where she would later become the head teacher of a nursery school.

In 2011, she was awarded an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) for services to children and families in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance (pictured with Belle Tutaev below), said, 'Belle’s contribution to early years childcare cannot be over stated'.

‘Childcare has changed enormously since the Alliance was founded almost 60 years ago but it is testament to the strength of Belle’s original vision that our founding principles have remained constant. Belle understood instinctively that young children benefit enormously from playing and learning alongside their peers – and that Government has a responsibility to support and enable this.

‘At a time when children, families and early years providers are continuing to face significant challenges, our work is just as vital as ever. We will continue to battle for these essential services and ensure we do justice to her incredible legacy. She was a remarkable woman and a cherished friend.’

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Mary Tutaev, one of Belle’s two children, added, ‘I am so proud of Belle: a woman who created such an important movement at a time when many women and children weren't regarded with much importance or relevance.

‘Belle was a force of nature who never accepted restrictions or setbacks – and her strongly held beliefs and convictions helped develop and change the lives of so many men, women and children. Let her tenacity, strength and pure conviction encourage future generations of adults and children to continue and build on such a fine organisation as the Alliance.’

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