Three decades of care and education

Reporter Olga Bradshaw catches up with Straidarran Community Playgroup which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary with a book launch and coffee evening

FOUNDER member of Straidarran Community Playgroup, Nanette Eakin this week said that she was proud that the fledgling toddlers' organisation has stood the test of time and is still serving the community after 30 years.

She said she believed the secret to the longevity of the organisation was that it allowed formerly isolated women to forge links with each other, providing a backbone for their community.

After a few fundraising activities and permission from Social Services the group, spearheaded by Nanette, opened their doors for the first time on February 9, 1979, with six children and two staff in attendance. The group offers pre-school places to families living between Claudy and Feeney and now some 30 years later it caters for 24 pre-school children daily and employs three staff.

History was made recently when some of those who first attended returned with their own children.

In recent times the group has had two Inspections by the Department of Education and two accreditations from Early Years (formerly NIPPA ) with top marks and no recommendations.

"What prompted me to set the playgroup up is very selfish really, it was my son. He was two-and-a-half at the time and I was looking for some kind of pre-school provision because I was working part-time in school and I approached the principal, but there was no pre-school provision in the area, and he suggested that I start one, which is the way it went," she said.

Having only recently moved out to the area from the city, Nanette admitted knowing no one and had gone from door to door with another lady from church in 1978 drumming up support for her new venture. With modest success initially, which has snowballed.

Nanette continued: "I noticed, not long after starting the group, mums who lived in the more rural areas spent more and more time together each morning in the building, chatting and comparing notes on their children and their development.

"The Playgroup proved to be a great support for the parents as well as the children and I know many strong and lasting friendships were forged during playgroup years not only by the children but by parents and staff alike. I think this is another reason for Straidarran Playgroup's longevity," she said.

"It is fantastic the way the Playgroup has blossomed to see it take off like this. It was lovely going in on Friday night and seeing it as it is now. When we started we brought toys from home and we borrowed a few desks and chairs from the primary school and now it is lovely to see all their lovely displays," she said.

Current leader, Sharon Hill, said plans for the anniversary year kicked off on Friday night with a launch of a recipe book and coffee night.

"People in the community and parents from the Playgroup submitted recipies for it, and it includes 56 pages of starters, main courses and desserts and there is a section for breads, tray bakes and breads as well as miscellaneous recipes, and the businesses in Claudy sponored pages in the book as well, which was good. The book really is very well done," she said.

Ms hall said the group had another committee meeting planned for March at which time further celebratory events would be discussed.

"The coffee evening was the beginning of our celebrations, and now we have to do something for the children so we are thinking about a party," she said.