Community and cultural development

Pilot project to extend childcare is a success

A pilot project to extend childcare provision in a rural community in the Outer Hebrides is proving a huge success. Twenty-four children are now registered and five people are employed at Pairc Playgroup in South Lochs, Isle of Lewis. As a community run social enterprise established in 2001, the playgroup previously offered limited childcare hours leaving residents with no nursery option in the local community.

 

The £107,166 pilot project is supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Muaitheabhal Community Wind Farm Trust (MCWFT) – an organisation operating a community benefit fund to secure long term benefits the South Lochs and North Harris community.

Chairperson of the Pairc Playgroup, Helen Sandison, said: “The demand for childcare has far exceeded expectations and children are using the service every day which was not anticipated in the first months of operation. Feedback from parents has been hugely supportive and encouraging and the playgroup is in a unique position to be able to capitalise on the demand for childcare.

“This project supports local community development through employment opportunities and could stimulate local employment with local business start-ups. Our area is being talked about far and wide and families are interested in what we are doing and in the possibility of moving to the area.”

The Pairc and Kinloch community is supported by HIE through a community account management relationship. Availability of nursery provision is identified in the community plan as a key component of a resilient local economy and a potential contributor to population growth and a more balanced demographic.

Jane Macintosh, head of Strengthening Communities at HIE, said: “We are particularly pleased to be able to support this pilot project.  The aim is to establish whether a social enterprise can maintain a viable nursery service in a remote rural community. 

“We also want to investigate the impact, adequate and easily accessible, childcare will have on the stability of small, rural communities, on population and whether more people, particularly women, are enabled to participate in the workplace.  Although we do not generally provide long term support for childcare, we do support social enterprises that are seeking to grow and community development initiatives that will result in improved services in our more fragile communities. 

“Therefore the pilot nature of this project is important to us.  At the end of the pilot a report on the project will be made available to others seeking to set up similar facilities through a social enterprise model.”

“The nursery previously delivered a limited service on behalf of the local authority. Our support and that of the local community windfarm trust has enabled it to extend this to include wrap-around care, more hours available, a wider age range catered for and widen the type of activities offered.

“The pilot is proving to have positive results so far and if it proves to be sustainable, the nursery will continue beyond the lifetime of the project, creating and retaining jobs and generating income in the local economy. In terms of HIE's strengthening communities remit, this would be ideal in helping develop a resilient, demographically balanced and well serviced community.”

A Muaitheabhal Community Wind Farm Trust spokesperson added: “MCWFT are proud to be supporting this project.

“This is a fine example of the innovative and proactive projects the Trust aims to support, tackling the main issues in our community of retaining our population, encouraging families to live here, as well as supporting local job opportunities.

“We wish the Playgroup every success in the pilot project and hope it leads to great things.”

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