AN Alton children’s nursery has shown true community spirit by coming to the rescue of another well-established playgroup in the town, saving it from long-term closure.

Busy Bees Nursery moved into unchartered waters on Monday by taking over St Lawrence Playgroup, which had called it a day in July after 43 years of serving the children of Alton.

Step in Busy Bees, a term-time, Ofsted-registered nursery for children aged two to school age based at Hawkins Headquarters on Chawton Park Road.

Established for more than 22 years, it is currently owned and run by nursery manager Janet Duddridge and nursery administration manager Alison Stickland who, on seeing the St Lawrence Playgroup under stress, decided to take it under the Busy Bees umbrella.

Alison said: “It is quite an unusual move, especially in the current climate for pre-schools, nurseries and early years generally.”

Based at the parish centre on Vicarage Hill, the St Lawrence Playgroup was set up in 1974 when it was common to run a playgroup with a group of mums. A committee would be formed to run the group and historically many groups have continued on that basis.

Alison explained: “It was before all the regulation came about that we have to contend with today. In today’s early years sector, it is often difficult to find people who are either willing or have the time to be on the playgroup committee and many struggle to find the support to run their settings with much of the burden falling on the managers running the day-to-day care and education of the children as well as all the paperwork.”

She continued: “It seems to be an increasing problem for all the traditional groups and was certainly the case for St Lawrence, with no-one coming forward to form a new committee which, together with financial pressure, led to the decision to close the setting at the end of July.

“We felt it was such a shame for such a long-standing group to close, especially given the hard work of the most recent manager and deputy manager in making it a successful, if under-subscribed pre-school. We approached the committee and agreed to step in and save it from closing.

“We felt that the setting provides an important service to the local community right in the heart of our town. Many parents can walk easily to drop off their children, especially if they have older children at the other schools in the vicinity.

“Ofsted has registered it as a good setting and we are very excited to be taking it forward for a new chapter in a long-running history of providing good quality childcare for local children.”

From Monday, the group will be known as Busy Bees @ St Lawrence, while the parent nursery has been rebranded Busy Bees @ Chawton Park.

Busy Bees Nursery has been running since 1994, with Janet and Alison taking over in 2006, and they will own and manage the two sites between them.

Serving families in the Whitedown area of Alton, the aim of Busy Bees is to provide “a safe and happy place for children to play and learn”.

“We want children to develop a love of learning during their early years and we take pride in providing them with the skills to learn and develop at their own pace, preparing them for their eventual transition to school,” said Alison.

Busy Bees @ Chawton Park is open five days a week during term time, from 8.30am-3.30pm Monday to Thursday and from 8.30am-noon on Fridays.

At St Lawrence, Busy Bees has retained those children who haven’t left to go to school and hopes to build up the numbers. At present it is operating from 9am to noon Monday to Friday, but the aim is to offer the full 30 hours by extending the opening hours for the spring term.