Cairncastle pre-school closes after 38 caring years

Leaders Mary Steele and Susan Leyshon with the first intake of children at the Cairncastle Pre-School Playgroup in 1974. INLT 26-612-CON

Leaders Mary Steele and Susan Leyshon with the first intake of children at the Cairncastle Pre-School Playgroup in 1974. INLT 26-612-CON

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FROM playing with sand to receiving a scroll at graduation, more than 500 people will have good reason to be thankful for the early days of their education at Cairncastle Pre-School, which closes this week for the last time.

Changed circumstances have spelled the end for the church hall-based group which was founded in 1974 to provide youngsters with a taster of life at primary school. Most parents now avail of free places for their infants in registered pre-schools and it is simply not feasible to bring the Cairncastle premises up to the registration standards demanded by the Department of Education.

Cairncastle Playgroup. INLT 26-438-PR

Cairncastle Playgroup. INLT 26-438-PR

Continuity has been key to the success of the playgroup. There have only been 10 leaders since its inception and all but one attended a celebration dinner recently.

Current leaders Pat Hunter and Phyllis Sands plan to retire at the end of an era which began when mums Susan Leyshon and Mary Steele opened the group with an initial intake of 10 children. In the interim, Lindsey Ward, Iris Hagan, Edna Gibson, Susan English, Mary Rainey and Anita Maxwell were leaders.

“It’s sad that we’re having to close, but the legislation has beaten us,” said Phyllis.

“Unfortunately,” she explained, “we can’t provide free places because of requirements like thermostatically-controlled water. It would not be financially viable for us to do everything needed.”

Numbers have declined in recent years, but as Pat said: “You can’t blame parents for taking up the free places available at other pre-schools.”

Everyone connected with the pre-school is indebted to the Cairncastle community for their support over the years. “People have been generous, raising the funds that kept us going for so long,” said Phyllis.

The leaders have fond memories and all names, events and images have been preserved for posterity in several scrapbooks.

Danny Donnelly, a former pupil whose two children also attended the pre-school, said the leaders had made “a very valuable contribution to the whole community”.

He added: “I remember the pre-school as a very warm and caring environment and I know my own children enjoyed learning social skills, sharing and playing together – all of which help with the transition to primary school.”