Bishop's Stortford pre-school Blues looks ahead to turning 40
Blues Pre-School Nursery is gearing up to celebrate a milestone. Next spring, the Bishop's Stortford playgroup will turn 40. CAT BARKLEY popped in to meet the team.
While party plans are still in the earliest stages, the staff at Blues hope to invite families from the past 40 years, as well as current pupils and their parents, to join in the festivities.
But some former pupils have already returned to the pre-school in the grounds of Bishop’s Stortford High School that they loved so much.
“We’re getting parents coming through who were children here themselves. They bring their own children now,” said manager Kim Craythorne.
Kim, 61, has been at Blues for 29 years. Her 32-year-old daughter started at the nursery when she was three, and Kim, who had been working as a childminder, applied for a job there when one became available.
“I just love it here. It’s a nice community,” she said. “Most of the staff here come as parents and decide to train to become early years practitioners.”
The deputy manager is Donah Shannon, 42, a parent of a former Blues boy, Jude, now an 8-year-old pupil at Windhill21 Primary. “As soon as my son was born I didn’t even think about taking him anywhere else,” she said.
While Donah never attended Blues herself, her younger sister – now a geography teacher in Ongar – is an alumna of the nursery. “Mum always used to say it’s why she went to university,” Donah said.
Donah started coming to Blues’ stay-and-play sessions with Jude when he was a tot – a toddler group that is open to all parents and carers with children under three years, designed to provide a gentle, informal introduction to pre-school. There is no minimum age.
As soon as children turn two, they can start going to Blues’ more structured morning, afternoon and full-day sessions; they do not have to wait for a new term to begin.
When Jude started school, Donah became an early years practitioner at Blues. Last year, she and her family relocated to Suffolk and she got a job in another nursery, but desperately missed her colleagues in Stortford.
“Working in a nursery there was so completely different,” she said. “The teamwork didn’t seem to be there, or the care.”
Donah missed the Blues’ community-spirited ethos and the support it gave not only the children but parents too.
“It’s not just about when a child gets dropped off at 9am and leaves at 12pm,” she said. “The whole family is part of our care. When you’ve got a child in your care, you’re such a huge part of its life.”
After a year in Suffolk, the Shannons moved back to Stortford, living in Thorley Park, just a few streets from their former home – and, to Donah’s delight, Blues were looking for a new deputy manager.
“It was pure luck, coincidence and good timing, because I knew I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else,” she said.
Donah’s predecessor, Ruth Dewhurst, left Blues in July after eight years. Children and staff threw her a party at their end-of-term graduation.
Blues Pre-School Nursery is a charity, which means that a board of trustees decides how its money gets spent.
All children are eligible for Government funding from the term after they turn three. This entitles them to receive 15 hours’ childcare a week, but the team at Blues do not insist that the child takes their full entitlement.
If they do need to take the full 15 hours, the Blues team are flexible as to when parents book in their children – they may opt for two full days and one morning a week or five mornings etc.
Parents who need more hours pay the pre-school’s hourly rate of £5.05.
The team at Blues organise fundraisers to boost their own coffers. Children take part in sponsored events such as treasure hunts, an annual pancake toss and various other games.
Donah now runs the stay-and-play toddler group every Thursday afternoon, from 1pm to 2.30pm, and works at the nursery during the regular sessions for children aged two to five.
The pre-school has a large, secure outdoor play area, while inside there are separate areas for maths, ICT, reading and writing. Over the summer holidays, the interior was given a fresh lick of paint.
The Blues team deliver a nurturing environment and promote the idea of learning through play, where children form relationships with one another and learn how to socialise from a young age. Some sessions are adult-led and others are open-ended, so the children can discover new things for themselves.
“Here they get to learn that they need to have their own voice,” Donah said.
The nursery was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted in February 2018 with an ‘outstanding’ grading for personal development, behaviour and welfare. “Our ratios here are really good,” Donah said. “There’s one member of staff for every six children – Ofsted recommend one to eight. We’re working above that, so that’s something we pride ourselves on.”
* Blues Pre-School Nursery is holding two open days this week: one on Thursday (Sept 27), between 1pm and 2.30pm, and one on Saturday (Sept 29), from 10am to 12pm. To find out more, visit www.bluespreschool.co.uk.