Par­ents’ fury as out­door nurs­ery told to quit site

Scheme was first in Wales:

Cynon Valley - - FRONT PAGE - AB­BIE WIGHTWICK ab­bie.wightwick@waleson­line.co.uk

WALES’ first out­door nurs­ery and tod­dler group, which has at­tracted global at­ten­tion, has been told it must leave the coun­cil-owned site it has oc­cu­pied for nearly four years.

An­gry par­ents say La­dy­birds at Dare Val­ley Park in Aber­dare is unique and Rhondda Cynon Taf Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to end its ten­ancy goes against ex­pert ad­vice on health and ed­u­ca­tion.

Young chil­dren learn best do­ing things and are less likely to get obese keep­ing ac­tive out­doors, they say.

Ig­nite Up, the com­pany which opened La­dy­birds in 2014, also runs out­door ac­tiv­i­ties and ed­u­ca­tion train­ing for teach­ers, pupils and un­em­ployed young peo­ple and oth­ers at the four-acre site.

For­mer PE teacher Dar­ren Lewis, who set up the com­pany and runs the groups, said he was “gut­ted” and had no prior warn­ing be­fore RCT Coun­cil emailed him in Au­gust telling him he must va­cate by the end of that month.

Af­ter a series of meet­ings with of­fi­cials, he said the date has now been ex­tended to Oc­to­ber 31 plus a cou­ple of weeks when he is al­lowed back to re­move struc­tures in­clud­ing a fence the com­pany erected around the site.

He says the com­pany has book­ings to next June, but now faces in­sol­vency with no venue to run from.

Heidi and Chris Ridg­way, from Cwm­bach, who have been bring­ing son Alex, two and a half, to La­dy­birds since he was six months old and also bring daugh­ter Bonnie, 14 months, said the area would lose a valu­able com­mu­nity as­set if it had to close.

Heidi, who works for a veg­etable grower, and Chris, a Tesco de­liv­ery driver, say La­dy­birds is the only tod­dler group they all en­joy go­ing to as it is less stress­ful be­ing out­doors.

“It’s made such a dif­fer­ence to my son, he loves it here, I don’t know how we’re go­ing to tell him if we can’t go any more,” said Heidi.

Sian Evans, from Tre­har­ris, who brings daugh­ter Olivia, two, to ses­sions once a week, said: “It’s an awe­some place and has done so much for my lit­tle girl. It’s a fan­tas­tic set-up. It’s lovely be­ing out­side in na­ture for kids and adults.”

Last year hun­dreds of early years teach­ers from around the world and the UK gath­ered for a con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by Ig­nite Up at the site to find out about the first-ever 100% out­door nurs­ery in Wales and share ex­per­tise.

It was the first time Wales has hosted the In­ter­na­tional Na­ture Ped­a­gogy Sym­posia, with pre­vi­ous hosts be­ing Swe­den, Fin­land and Ja­pan – all lead­ers in out­door learn­ing.

The nearby St Mar­garet’s RC pri­mary has also sent re­cep­tion and nurs­ery pupils to La­dy­birds so they can ex­pe­ri­ence learn­ing out­doors.

Mr Lewis said Ig­nite Up never had a lease with RCT Coun­cil but was a “ten­ant in kind” and paid £1,200 a quar­ter in rent to RCT Coun­cil as well as bills for wa­ter used in the build­ing and of­fice.

A Rhondda Cynon Taf Coun­cil spokesman said: “The coun­cil has for a num­ber of years at­tempted to set in place a for­mal lease ar­range­ment for the occupation of the land and build­ing with Ig­nite. Dur­ing this pe­riod Ig­nite has been al­lowed occupation on a ten­ancy at will ba­sis.

“The coun­cil has on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions sought to proac­tively es­tab­lish a for­mal lease ar­range­ment for the fa­cil­ity; as this has not been pos­si­ble, the coun­cil has given no­tice of ter­mi­na­tion to Ig­nite, pro­vid­ing four weeks’ no­tice, although a ten­ancy at will can be ter­mi­nated im­me­di­ately.”

DAR­REN LEWIS

La­dy­birds tod­dler group at Dare Val­ley Coun­try Park

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