Staff ‘heartbroken’ after university closes last subsidised nursery

Posted On 26 Apr 2021 at 2:43 pm

Staff at a university-run nursery threatened with closure say finding out it was closing was “a kick in the teeth”.

Eleven members of staff at the One World nursery in Moulsecoomb Place are set to lose their jobs as a result of the University of Brighton’s decision not to reopen it.

It has been closed since January after university bosses said it had to remain shut with the rest of campus despite other English nurseries staying open.

The closure comes less than a year after the university shut its other subsidised nursery, Phoenix nursery in Southover Street.

It said both nurseries were running at a huge loss – but staff at One World say they haven’t been given a chance to prove that a single site could break even.

Now, more than 700 people have signed a petition opposed to the plans.

Deputy manager Sarah Ottewell said: “It was really upsetting when we had to close in January and we have all been holding on and waiting for dates. They kept on being pushed back.

“Then we had a Microsoft Teams call saying that was the decision without consulting with us on possible ways forward. I sympathise with the university’s financial position but I feel so strongly about the service we offer.

“The bottom line is the children, but it’s more than that – it’s links with the community and other agencies around the city and with other departments – we’ve facilitated so much research here, it’s a very special place.

“Links with the community are really vital, day to day contact with the community and these families, who are overshadowed by the university now more than ever.

It’s heartbreaking and we wish that we had been given an opportunity to be financially viable.

“We do feel really hurt and upset. It feels like a kick in the teeth.”

Phoenix Nursery closed because of the pandemic in March 2020, and July its four staff were told it was closing permanently. Two decided to leave, and two were redeployed to One World.

The university says it is trying to redeploy the ten women and one man who work at One World, ten of whom work part-time, and it may also approach other local nurseries to see if they have vacancies.

A spokesman said: “One World has run at a financial loss for many years, losing an average of £83,000pa in the five years pre-pandemic. This deficit increased to over £140,000 in 2019/20 and was forecast to rise to around £170,000 in 2020/21.

“Only a small number of University staff and students have been using One World in recent years, with each user effectively subsidised at a cost of £4000pa even before the arrival of COVID-19. All users got their first 15 hours free and funded at a set rate by the government.”

The staff are being supported by the Unison union, which has raised a formal dispute with the university and plans to ask staff if they want to strike.

University of Brighton Unison branch secretary Ivan Bonsell said: “This knee-jerk decision is a terrible one. It will only save a few pounds, but would end a tradition of decades of dedicated childcare and early years education at the university.

“One World Nursery is a shining example of the university’s commitment to widen access to higher education by providing excellent quality childcare and early-years learning to students with young children.

“Higher education should be a possibility for everyone. One World Nursery is vital way of making that happen. We can’t afford for it to close.

“The university should think again, keep the nursery open and save jobs.”

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