Nursery provision in South Lochs is to be extended thanks to a £107,000 pilot project taking place with Pairc Playgroup.

With funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Muaitheabhal Community Wind Farm Trust (MCWFT), the three-year project brings with it three new employment opportunities in the area; and hopes that increased childcare could attract new families to South Lochs.

“Sourcing adequate childcare is a major problem for many families in the area, with many having to look to Stornoway for provision as there is nothing available locally,” said Helen Sandison, Pairc Playgroup Committee.

“This has an effect on our local primary school, with families first sourcing nursery care elsewhere and then sourcing primary school education elsewhere.

“There is just a desperate need for full-time provision locally, and we're delighted that soon we will be able to do that,” she continued. “With work being undertaken by MCWFT to look at more housing in the area, we hope childcare will no longer be a barrier to attracting more families to come and live in South Lochs.”

Funding around 55% (£58,941) of the £107,166 pilot, Muaitheabhal Community Wind Farm Trust are 'proud to be supporting' the 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,” said a Trust spokesperson.

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

The three-year Pairc Playgroup project will see the community run nursery's hours – currently mornings only, Monday to Thursday – increase to cover Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm, with the introduction of Breakfast and Afternoon clubs, expanding the age range to cater for children two to 12 years.

It also brings three new employment opportunities to the area, currently being advertised on www.welovestornoway.com 

“Living in such a rurally isolated community, we sometimes struggle to keep things afloat, especially when our numbers dip below five children – a risk we constantly face,” said Helen.

“We are delighted therefore we have been successful with our funding, especially to have the support of HIE.

“This is the first time in the Western Isles that HIE have supported a childcare project like this, and they are looking to see if a rural area like ours can sustain such a venture, see if it has an effect on the population by attracting new families to the area, and also see if it helps women to return to the job market.”

Jane MacIntosh, Head of Strengthening Communities, HIE, said: “While we do not generally provide long term support for childcare, we do support community development initiatives and social enterprise.

“Pairc Nursery already delivers a limited service on behalf of the local authority. Our support, and that of the local community Wind Farm Trust, will extend this to include warp-around care, more hours available, a wider age range catered for and the types of activities offered.

“In the process it will also achieve better value for public finances and improve affordability of public services,” she continued. “If 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 the resilient, demographically balanced and well serviced community.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise are funding around 40% (£42,866) of the pilot project, with Pairc Playgroup investing the final five percent (£5,359) as the nursery Committee hope the venture will also help secure its readiness to provide for the Scottish Government pledge to increase provision of free early learning and childcare from the current 600 hours a year to 1,140 hours by 2020.

Commenting on the project, Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, said: “I am delighted that Pairc Playgroup has been successful in securing funding for this pilot project which will see childcare extended for children and families in South Lochs communities.

“It is fantastic to see a rural community taking such an innovative and flexible approach to delivering early learning and childcare by integrating the funded 600 hours with extended hours, to really meet the needs of families living in the area.

“This approach will enable more children to benefit from early learning, will support more parents to work, train and study and give the local economy a real boost.”

He continued: “The future expansion of funded early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours a year will be this government's most transformative infrastructure investment.

“It is great that Pairc Playgroup is already looking ahead and planning for this expansion, and I wish them all the best with the pilot.”