Farewell to ‘village institution’ preschool after more than five decades

Aldbury Pre School staff, past and present, with parents
Aldbury Pre School staff, past and present, with parents

A village pre-school closed its doors for the last time after five decades of welcoming hundreds of children through its doors.

The committee-run Aldbury Pre-School on Toms Hill Road was first set up in the 60s as a playgroup and and soon evolved into a bigger operation with more than 40 children on the books.

Run with four members of staff from the village hall and provided local youngsters with morning care sessions from the age of two and a half until they enrolled in school.

But in recent years, take up numbers dwindled to around 16 places and the pre-school began to struggle under ‘financially unviable’ conditions.

At the end of last year, the regrettable decision was made to close the pre-school and all parents were informed.

A statement posted on the pre-school’s website said: “Unfortunately, due to low numbers of preschool-age children in the surrounding area take-up has been critically low and this is unlikely to change.

“Despite the committee’s best efforts, this has left the preschool in a financially unsustainable position.

“This was an immensely difficult decision to make, particularly in light of our fantastic staff who have always provided a warm and caring environment for our children to thrive in.”

Parents and staff from the past and present gathered to talk about the good times at a ‘goodbye’ party and shared memories of the pre-school’s best moments.

Mother-of-two and committee chair Maija Knox said: “The pre-school was very much a home away from home – a nurturing environment. It was a wonderful place.”

Staff member Becky Bunting, of Little Gaddesden, had been at the pre-school for 22 years and was deputy play leader for part of that time.

She said: “It’s quite heartbreaking really. We’ve had to sell off all the toys, it’s been very upsetting.

“I started working there when my son went to school in Little Gaddesden in 1992.

“It’s been such a happy job because all the children and their parents were so lovely. I do feel so lucky to have worked there, it was an honour.

“It’s been absolutely amazing to watch how many little ones come along and then they’re followed by their brothers and sisters, we waved them all off to ‘big school’ as we called it.”

Ms Bunting said the playgroup was initially set up by familiar face and village stalwart Janet Ridgway, who attended the goodbye party along with staff members and families, past and present.

She said: “Janet made a little speech at the farewell party and she said she couldn’t believe it was closing.

“There were lots of photos from years gone by and we shared lots of lovely memories as we looked at them.”