Playgroup at risk from closure over budget cuts

Playgroup at risk from closure over budget cuts

6 September 2017

A BELEAGUERED playgroup in Ballyhornan is at risk of closure, it has been claimed this week.

Tiny Toons Playgroup, which has looked after hundreds of children since its formation in 1994, may be forced to close because of funding pressures.

One member of staff has been made redundant and the unit’s enrolment has been reduced from 24 to 16 children as volunteers struggle to balance the books.

Mrs Patricia Curran, chairwoman of the playgroup’s board of governors, said she did not believe the facility, which offers five morning sessions to preschool children, could survive after once again being turned down for government funding.

She said playgroup personnel were devastated their application to the Department of Education’s Pathway Fund had been unsuccessful, despite meeting a key criteria of operating in one of Northern Ireland’s most disadvantaged areas.

Ms Curran first warned that Tiny Toons was in dire straits last year when she said she had been forced to pay a member of staff from the proceeds of a Christmas raffle.

She said the situation was now even more critical because of the reduction in children and staff, which, she said, would have a knock-on effect on its future.

“We will have to turn children away this year as we can only accept 16,” she said.

“We may just manage to operate ok this academic year as we have eleven four year-olds, whose places are funded by the Department for Education.

”However, the reduction in numbers means we now have just five places for the earlier age group. “As a result there will only be five funded places next year and that will definitely not bring in enough funding to keep us going.

“This will most definitely affect our future, which will in turn affect the Ballyhornan community.”

Mrs Curran, who is also head of the Ballyhornan and District Community Association, said she felt under pressure because of the stress of maintaining the playgroup without adequate funding.

She said she was particularly sad about the funding crisis given a series of positive inspection reports, which credited Tiny Toons for its local service.

“We have never had anybody saying a bad word about the playgroup. The staff are excellent and are well trained,” she said.

“We took great care with our application for the Pathway Fund and gave as much information as we could.

“It seems we are not considered to be in a disadvantaged area, yet Ballyhornan is one of the most disadvantaged areas we have.

“Having to tell somebody they do not have a job any more is very difficult and I can understand that  is why there would be nobody willing to take over my role as chairwoman.”

Mrs Curran added: “We do not have enough money to keep going or pay our staff. This is where we are falling down.

“I think the playgroup might be forced to close.”