Nursery appeals for help amid financial challenges​

​The “real world” problems of maintaining childcare facilities in the islands have again been highlighted by the threatened closure of a long-established nursery serving the Pairc area of Lewis.
An Cotan in Stornoway also faces an uncertain future.An Cotan in Stornoway also faces an uncertain future.
An Cotan in Stornoway also faces an uncertain future.

In a letter to this week’s Gazette (see page 6) and also a Facebook post, Hebridean Childcare is appealing for financial support to stave off closure within the next six weeks. This follows closure of An Còtan by UHI Outer Hebrides.

Hebridean Childcare, which has premises in Kershader, operates as a charity and is constantly involved in fund-raising. It attributes its immediate problems to the loss of a “discontinued rural top-up” administered by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The letter states: “Hebridean Childcare has been an essential institution in our community, providing high-quality early childhood education and care for 25 years. The nursery serves as a safe haven for young children, offering them a nurturing environment that promotes learning, socialisation, and personal growth.

“It is the foundation upon which many children begin their educational journey and prepares them for future success. Despite the nursery's track record and the dedicated efforts of its staff, it is struggling to meet its financial obligations.

“The closure of Hebridean Childcare would have a profound impact on the children and families who rely on its services, as well as the wider community. Parents who work or study may be left without affordable and accessible childcare options, resulting in undue stress and potential disruption to their employment or education”.

Pre-school education is presented as a Scottish Government priority and the Programme for Government announced by the First Minister, Humza Yousaf, on Tuesday gave it considerable attention.

He said the Scottish Government would “accelerate the next phase in our expansion of childcare for families with two-year-olds” and “give parents and carers more scope to manage their childcare so it meets their specific needs”.

Mr Yousaf continued: “Some parents may want to use a mix of provision, and may find arranging and keeping track of their childcare stressful. We will simplify that process – enabling parents to have more control over their childcare choices”.

In practice, however, many childcare providers in low-income and rural areas are finding difficulty in funding their operations and also in staff recruitment.

Highlands and Islands Labour MP, Rhoda Grant, said: “The delivery of childcare was a major theme in today’s Programme for Government speech. However, Western Isles residents will be feeling that these promises are disingenuous when compared to what’s happening around them.

“The situation An Còtan and now Hebridean Childcare illustrates how fragile childcare provision is on the islands so, much as I welcome these plans, I cannot help but feel the First Minister is out of touch with the reality for our most rural communities.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has also been asked for comment.