Is pre-school closure the sign of more cuts to come?

The pre-school, based at St Michael's Primary School in Lyme Regis, will close next week

YOUNG mothers in Lyme Regis were understandably distraught this week when they heard that the pre-school, operated by St Michael’s Primary School, was closing down.

That was bad enough, but the fact they were only given one week’s notice was strongly criticised, especially as it meant it may result in some children not being prepared for primary school when the new term starts in September.

Parents were informed in a letter, jointly signed by headteacher Nick Kiddle, and Michaela Ellis, chairman of the school governors, saying the pre-school had become financially “unviable” and there was no other choice.

Apparently, the pre-school, with declining numbers, has been operating at a loss for some time and the deficit for the current year stood at £20,000. At the moment there are 20 funded children.

The letter to parents stated that the deficit was too heavy a burden to maintain, despite cuts made across the whole school in a bid to keep it open.

Of course, when such unpopular decisions are made, there is no good time to make the announcement, but concerned parents were soon on social media questioning the short notice they were given and called on the new Dorset Council and Lyme Regis Town Council to provide additional funding.

It is rumoured that Dorset Council is budgeting for a £15.5million deficit in its first year, so it is unlikely further funding from Dorchester will be forthcoming.

Lyme Regis Town Council is cash rich and could find £20,000, although it is not the function of a parish authority to finance eduction. But the council has just sanctioned a grant of £25,000 towards the crumbling church tower and parents of the pre-school toddlers will be looking to town councillors for support.

I fear this is not the only cut on the horizon as far as Dorset Council is concerned. Town councillors are already concerned about the future of the Tourist Information Centre, accommodated in the town council office building, and there is expectation that if this function is to continue Lyme will have to take on its annual running costs, rumoured to be around £70,000.

Public toilets could be next on the list, an expensive operation fraught with problems as the town council has discovered on a number of occasions in the past.

The Lyme authority has been hugely generous in supporting local organisations, but this too could be impossible to maintain in future years.

With reduced government funding, small towns like Lyme will have to accept, if they want to maintain facilities, they will have to pay for them.

The council is being urged in some quarters to support the proposed Mary Anning statue project, estimated to cost £175,000, by donating the £15,000 disturbance money from the ‘Ammonite’, film starring Kate Winslet, to honour one of Lyme’s most famous names from the past.

PR supremo Geoff Baker had agreed to handle the publicity for this project but withdrew his services after examining his conscience and coming to the conclusion that he could not warrant helping to raise such a large amount on a statue when there were families in the town relying on the food bank to survive.

Here’s an idea. To give the school the chance of examining all options for further funding, the town council could use £10,000 from the film money, together with a £10,000 grant, which they could afford, with the remaining £5,000 reserved for the Mary Anning statue should the rest of the money be found.

Maybe this could finance the pre-school for another year whilst alternative arrangements can be investigated, both for fundraising and for parents to find an alternative, if necessary, for early years education.

A well supported and excellently run pre-school is operated in Uplyme and a new nursery is about to be launched to run alongside the reception class at Charmouth Primary School. Concern has also been expressed on social media that if Lyme toddlers attend a pre-school in either Charmouth or Uplyme, this could have a knock-on effect on numbers attending St Michael’s in the future.

I spoke to Mayor Brian Larcombe MBE this week and he was unaware that the pre-school was closing but made it clear the council would look into the situation.

Ready to tee-off, or should that be kick- off? Let the father and daughter battle commence…

Football (of sorts) on the Strawberry Field at last!

ONE of the great regrets of my sporting life was the failure to deliver a new home for Lyme Regis Football Club at the Strawberry Field in Charmouth Road.

The £1.2million project was comprehensively rejected by a West Dorset planning officer who even refused to meet with us to discuss his concerns, following opposition from a handful of people in Uplyme and the surrounding parishes, some of whom could not even see the site, opposite the park and ride, from the village.

The development included a multi-use games area which would have provided facilities for other sports, not just football, especially tennis, fulfilling an undertaking by Lyme Regis Town Council to replace the old courts at the Woodmead Halls. Lyme must be the only seaside town on the south coast without tennis facilities.

The ironic thing is, had the planning application been submitted today, it would probably have been approved with the emphasis now much more on sporting facilities for young people, the legacy of the wonderful sporting achievements in this country over the last ten years.

But that opportunity has passed and the Strawberry Field will never become a sporting complex with the cost having probably rocketed to around £5million today.

Had the new football pitches become a reality it was always my ambition to pull on a Lyme shirt again and play, perhaps for ten minutes or so, in the opening game at the Strawberry Field. Well, that dream came true last week, to a degree, when I was able to kick a ball around the Strawberry Field with the opening of Jurassic Footgolf, a cross between golf and soccer.

My competitive streak well and truly came to the fore when I challenged my daughter Francesca – not known for her sporting prowess – to nine holes at Lyme’s latest sporting craze. Obviously, I emerged as the victor by five points, but Francesca did much better than I thought and got the hang of it by the ninth hole which she parred.

The Strawberry Field was acquired by the town council for sporting and recreational use, so I’m pleased to see that it is being put to that use at long last, albeit in a less ambitious manner.

Good luck to Seaton businessman Gary Davies who has launched the new sporting facility. It’s good fun, ideal for kids’ parties and family gatherings – and sports-mad old gits like me!

Cricket, wonderful cricket…

AND there was me thinking the 1966 World Cup victory by the England football team would be the most exciting sporting event of my life. It had nothing on Sunday’s World Cup cricket final which exceeded all expectations.

There are no superlatives to do justice to England’s nail-biting win over New Zealand. Within minutes of the trophy being raised aloft by Eion Morgan, I went on Twitter and expressed the view that I hope such a marvellous sporting feat would reignite interest in grass roots cricket. It was a theme that was shared in most of the national press the following day.

The fact is that village cricket has been in decline for years. Last summer my old club, Uplyme & Lyme Regis, for whom I was a mediocre player but chairman for several years, nearly went to the wall. The club where I made so many lifelong friends.

The community rallied round and the club took the wise decision to reduce to one side. The revival, both on and off the pitch, has been a credit to all and Uplyme are now experiencing some of their best results for many a moon.

But getting enough players is still an issue. Despite their improved form, Uplyme have fielded just ten men on two occasions.

School cricket is virtually extinct in this area and that doesn’t help. When I was a kid, after every good win by the England Test X1 we would be out on the playing field, cutting a strip with our dad’s lawnmower and putting in the stumps. I took a look on Sunday afternoon.

Even after that marvellous demonstration of how exciting cricket can be (yes girls, it can), there were no kids trying to emulate our new cricketing heroes. Just a few teenagers, behaving themselves, smoking fags and listening to the beat boxes blaring out rap music.

Nothing wrong with that, but I just wonder what they are missing.

Four-way race for town council seat

IT’S good to see there are four candidates for the forthcoming Lyme Regis by-election, caused by the surprise resignation of the people’s champion, Cheryl Reynolds.

These include two former councillors, former mayor and long-time district councillor Owen Lovell, who failed to stand at the last election due to a mix-up in the administration process, and former deputy mayor Steve Miller, who also chaired the council’s most influential committee, Strategy and Finance.

The other two candidates are Rob Smith, a Green candidate in the recent Dorset Council election, and Paul Edmonds, a trustee at the Marine Theatre and former parish councillor in Hampshire.

Polling day will be on August 8, my birthday. Please note (especially the town council staff), my name is not among them!

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