We all feel wonderful, great, in this amazing balmy weather, as London records temperatures of higher than 21ºC and daffodils even on the fellsides of Sparty Lea erupt in the sunshine. But, on the other hand, it’s terrifying, isn’t it?! The last 22 years are all found in the hottest 25 years on record; the last 5 years are the hottest 5 years since records began, and that includes dramatic winters like last year’s Beast from the East which occurred at just this point in the calendar. Something significant is happening, and happening very quickly, and youngsters currently enjoying a dramatically early springtime in February at Allendale’s Pre-School will grow up in a different world to that we know.
I was in after the Pre-School day, chatting with Jodie Nichol who is in charge of Allendale Pre-School now, and Rachel Allman, another of the team of five (including Jenni Graham, Diane Nichol, and Mandi Baird, currently on maternity leave) friendly staff. It was a delight, and especially to discover that both Rachel and Jodie were Pre-School attendees themselves in their childhood. We started with a common consent that the staff must love their job, since they’re not in it for the money!
Allendale Pre-School is a charity, paying its staff on standard ‘voluntary sector’ wages, which are secured by government assistance for 15 hours of Pre-School attendance a week, and additional hours paid for by parents. In many ways, the group is ideal for flexi-time workers, but that also means they have to be flexible according to need as well, and staff often have at least one other job in addition.
Although its present purpose-built building looks set to stand fit-for-purpose for some significant time to come, with garden extension probably to the back, and regardless of what happens when its front parking lot is subsumed into the First School redevelopment, the Pre-School has gone through a variety of premises over the years from its inception in 1970 at the Village Hall. I can remember when they moved from the Village Hall to the Church Hall, and then to a Portakabin on their current site, and then the county built a brand-new building for the group, which currently houses some 27 three and four year olds (sometimes two year old toddlers) .
Jodie and Rachel wanted to emphasize that the Pre-School works very hard to be flexible for parents’ needs, around the normal 9:00 to 3:15 times, as they strive to nurture their charges in their emotional development, while bringing them on in the Early Years Curriculum at Foundation Stage with carefully directed play, so that the children are as ‘school ready’ as they can possibly be. That flexibility extends to keeping the fees as low as possible too, currently running at £25/day which compares very favourably to fees of some £65 found in Hexham, for example. Additionally, short-notice care is almost always possible, unlike other groups where a six week notice period is required.
Travelling through Allendale on any of my many errands throughout the day, I often see the little train of pre-schoolers trundling along through the village, holding hands and being very attentive to their careful carers, and they always bring a smile. Getting to know the Co-op, traversing the Forge, engaging in a bit of baking, searching for dragon eggs on the Deneholme Wood walk — in all of these activities the encouragement and stimulation by the cheerful workers to engage their charges with their new world as confident little individuals has garnered an Ofsted report of ‘Good’ for Allendale Pre-School, which is a super tribute to the charity and the village it serves.
It’s also a tribute to the volunteers, parents who work hard to make the facility as welcoming and family-friendly as possible, to make it a place where their children can grow into unique and eager young people ready to embark on their school adventure, which will be so much less daunting given the amount of liaising that goes on between the Pre-School and the Primary School reception teachers.
Thanks for the lovely chat, Jodie and Rachel, and I hope I didn’t intrude too much on the cleaning time, which must be accomplished, of course, after every day’s whirlwind of child activity.