First steps to new parent-run group in Selsey

Parents and children against the closure of First Steps. Picture by Kate Shemilt
Parents and children against the closure of First Steps. Picture by Kate Shemilt

THE closure of a Selsey nursery was confirmed this week, but mums are springing into action to set up another in its place.

Sue Carpenter, who works for First Steps, told mums at a meeting on February 10, that the nursery had been making a loss since it opened seven years ago.

A letter went out to parents on Tuesday to confirm the nursery, which runs from the Selsey Centre, is set to close on July 12.

Emma Russell, a working mum from Selsey, is part of the group which is working to set up a community nursery in First Steps’ place.

She said: “The plan at the moment is going to be formalising our committee and we are going to be approaching local businesses for sponsorship.”

On the decision to close First Steps, she said: “I guess we should have known it was coming, they had not broken even in seven years.

“I think they had actually made up their minds before the meeting.

“All the mums are in a right panic, thinking ‘well what’s going on, what’s a community nursery, what does it mean?’.

“We have decided to move our committee meeting forward.”

The community nursery committee will meet tonight to start putting a plan into action.

The hope is the community will take over the nursery the day after First Steps closes.

Sam Tate, town centre manager, is working with the group of mums to come up with a plan for the community nursery.

“We’re just going to look at getting a business plan together to see what we can do to make the nursery viable,” she said.

“If we can’t, then we need to understand what the shortfall will be, and see if we can make it up by applying for grants.”

Mum Lisa Lyon, who is part of the community nursery committee, said at the meeting on February 10: “If we all work together as a community, we can make sure it stays open.”

First Steps

Senior manager at First Steps, Sue Carpenter said: “It is only after exploring every possible cost cutting and income raising opportunity, looking at current and forecasted take-up and the overall economic situation, that we have come to the very sad decision to close the Selsey setting.

“We have some amazing staff who do excellent work at Selsey and we hope to be able to offer as many as possible the opportunity of relocating to another of our settings. We are also very sorry to disappoint our existing and also any potential parents but running the nursery is just not financially viable with only around 27 full time equivalent places taken each year compared to the 60 places available.

“We hope that some of the children may be able to switch to the Chichester setting if parents are working off the peninsula. First Steps is a strong and reputable organisation but to stay this way we have had to make some tough commercial decisions which, unfortunately, have impacted on the Selsey setting.

“We have not come to the decision to close lightly and we do want to work with parents and others in the local council and community to ensure the closure is as smooth and straight forward as possible.”

First Steps currently has nursery settings in Chichester, Bersted and Pulborough, as well as Selsey. Although owned by Chichester College, First Steps is a separate organisation and very much a commercial business in its own right.

A spokeswoman for the college said “First Steps is a separately run organisation but it also makes a significant contribution to the overall Chichester College financial position.

“It is with deep regret that we have explored options to continue supporting the Selsey Nursery and, in previous times we may have been able to do this, but government cuts and cost pressures are significant for colleges at this time.

“We have therefore had to take the tough commercial decision to close the Selsey setting to ensure First Steps continues as successfully as possible but also to contribute to the overall financial stability of the college as a whole. First class childcare will continue at the other First Steps settings, to which we are hoping to relocate some of our Selsey staff and children.”

First Steps said up to nine staff could be affected by the closure but every effort to redeploy will be made.