One of last Gaelic playgroups could close

Ms Gibson with her son outside Pointers, where she hosted the Gaelic playgroup.
Ms Gibson with her son outside Pointers, where she hosted the Gaelic playgroup.

One of the last remaining Gaelic playgroups in Stornoway has appealed to Gazette readers to find a Gaelic-speaking class leader or else the group could face closure, says its chair.

The Rionnagan Beaga Steornabhagh is parent-run and supported by Bòrd na Gàidhlig; it caters for children up to five years of age and meets at Pointers in Stornoway.

The children could soon be forced to move elsewhere if a Gaelic play leader cannot be found, says its chairwoman Marianne Gibson.

“I guess we’ll have no choice but to mothball it, which would be really sad,” says Ms Gibson, who discovered the playgroup two years ago when looking for places to take her then six-month-old child.

Since being founded in 2010, the playgroup has been bringing both Gaelic and English-speaking children together to join in modern and traditional Gaelic song and play.

The playgroup meets weekly and is considered by the community as an opportunity for all generations to assimilate.

Children from a few months to five years old can congregate with their parents and grandparents and sing Gaelic songs, make crafts, and learn all manner of useful vocabulary.

The group is also considered useful for adults with children who are new to the islands, to learn Gaelic.

“The group helps everyone grow into the Gaelic community”, says Ms Gibson, “parents and grandparents turn up too and they all participate in Gaelic centred activities.”

But she says the learning and fun already come to an end when the parents’ committee decided to stop providing the service mid-September because it could not find a Gaelic-speaking person to lead the children’s development.

Despite having advertised for three to four weeks, parents are no further forward in finding a member of staff and it is understood the playgroup - a rare but thriving Gaelic resource - could soon close down for good.

Ms Gibson said: “It’s a really useful way of leading children into Gaelic education.

“I believe we’re not alone in our trouble finding a Gaelic-speaking person. I hear that a place in Shawbost also has had trouble finding a qualified person.

“It’s a fluent Gaelic speaker we require for the role but that doesn’t mean they have to be very experienced.

“We have resources to help train them and we’ve previously had a student helping.”

The playgroup is appealing to the Gazette’s readers for a keen person to come forward or else Gaelic pre-school fun might be at an end, says Ms Gibson.

She added: “That would be a real shame for the children and their families too.”

Bòrd na Gàidhlig, who have funded the playgroup, spoke to the Gazette about the important of early years education and its vital role in the transition to Gaelic Medium schooling.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig Interim-Ceannard, Joe Moore, said that they were sorry to hear of the staffing difficulties faced by Rionnagan Beaga Steòrnabhaigh, which had been recently awarded a £1116 grant by Bòrd na Gàidhlig to support their activities over the coming year.

A spokesman said: “Supporting the development of the Early Years sector is a key strategic priority for Bòrd na Gàidhlig and one of the key development areas outlined in the National Gaelic Language Plan.

“Our local Early Years Support Worker is working closely with the Committee and other organisations to try to help find a solution.

“We recognise that Early Years education is paramount to the future of the Gaelic language.

“In terms of funding we’ll certainly access anyone eligible body who applies to us. We have funded this playgroup before and they are very welcome to apply to us for funding again.”