Parents’ fury as outdoor nursery told to quit site
Scheme was first in Wales:
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.”
Ladybirds toddler group at Dare Valley Country Park