St Albans nursery given six weeks' notice warning of potential closure

Acorns Nursery receives the Nursery of the Year award at the 2018 Herts Ad School Awards.

Acorns Nursery receives the Nursery of the Year award at the 2018 Herts Ad School Awards. - Credit: Cathy Benucci Photography

More than 50 families could be left without childcare provision following the shock news that a nursery could be closing its doors for good in a matter of weeks.

Staff at Acorns Day Nursery, which is based on the Smallford campus of Oaklands College, were told on Wednesday (July 22) that the award-winning facility would possibly be shutting permanently in six weeks.

The nursery is based in the converted Manor House on the grounds, and is open to private families as well as college students and employees. It achieved outstanding standard in its last Ofsted inspection, and won the accolade of Best Nursery in the Herts Ad School Awards 2018.

A member of staff told the Herts Ad: "We have staff and over 50 families who will be affected by this, from loss of income to loss of childcare, we've worked hard and built a word of mouth reputation that money can't buy. I realise the past year has been tough, but it feels so unfair to all involved."

Parent Will Lewis said: "The nursery is not only exceptional with a lovely family feel, but has proven a lifeline for a number of key-worker parents like me and my wife over the course of this pandemic. They have bent over backwards to help my wife work extra shifts in intensive care units in London, when she was needed most. 

"According to a 2018 report,  the college has received close to £49 million in an ongoing basis for selling off land for development, yet cites the cost of building renovation as a key reason to close this vital community service down. Helping the community being a fairly laughable part of its mission statement. 

"With six weeks notice, our chances of finding a new nursery in a very crowded market are slim, potentially involving my wife or myself cutting our hours. This nursery is a well attended and happy environment and this shocking six week notice has come out of nowhere for the parents and staff alike."

Fellow parent Sarah Denbigh added: "The biggest problem we have faced is the time frame the college has created. They have said the consultation will conclude in September and should they conclude that they want to go ahead with the closure, it would be immediate.

"This means that the very act of putting it into consultation will lead to a closure of the nursery as parents and staff can’t wait to find out the outcome if the closure would be immediate as we can’t suddenly be left without childcare and jobs.

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"This in itself doesn’t feel like a fair way to manage the process and leaves the consultation process null and void as even if they conclude if can remain open, they’ll be left with no children or staff.

"The way this has been handled and the short notice given has put parents in the position of either having to give up work or possibly having to find sub-standard childcare as many nurseries in St Albans have long waiting lists which we can’t afford to join given the timeframe of the closure.

"There also seems to be a complete overlook of the well-being of the children. They have already had to endure a lot of change and disruption to their lives over the past two years and now they are facing another transition without us even being given the option for a slow and gentle way to do this to support their well-being.

"As parents of the nursery, we are currently campaigning to firstly keep the nursery open but at the very least, delay the consultation or closure process to give parents more time to find suitable alternatives."

Local councillor Chris Brazier added: "Oaklands should have done a thorough consultation with the parents, not a sole letter of intent to close. At  this time of a pandemic parents are struggling to work, home schooling and get good child care.

"I have contacted my fellow county councillors to seek their assistance and I know parents have contacted Daisy Cooper MP."

A spokesperson for Oaklands College said: “After much consideration, a proposal has been made to close the nursery on our St Albans campus.

"The proposal has been made for a number of reasons, including the extensive and costly renovation that is needed in order for the nursery to remain operational.

"We absolutely recognise that this is unsettling for parents and staff and it is with deep regret that we have had to make the proposal to close. We are currently consulting with our nursery staff and, following this, a final decision will be made during the week commencing 6th September.

"We are also working closely with Hertfordshire County Council to provide details of alternative provision in the area.“