Windmill Hill City Farm is considering an opportunity to increase its places for pre-school nursery children. If it goes ahead it will give an additional 32 places for 3-5 year-olds in an area that is desperately in need of more provision – and secure the financial future for the farm as a free community facility.
The opportunity has come about as Bristol City Council has won funds from central government to help to cover the cost of providing more places in time for the arrival of 30 hours free childcare for working families. The project is in its feasibility stage: checking the site, costs and working up a design for the project, which needs a new building. Part of this study will be a planning application that is likely to be submitted by the Council in the next few weeks.
The proposed site for the building is on the existing sports pitch at the farm. This change of use has concerned the teams that currently play on it. The board of trustees at the farm delayed a decision on whether to go ahead with the plan in order to give more time to hear their concerns.
Changing the use from a pitch to a nursery will be a difficult decision for the trustees. Around 13 5-a-side teams play on it and it has been a part of the facilities on offer for many years. However, at 13 years old, the pitch is beyond its expected lifespan. If the project goes ahead the farm will work with the teams and BCC towards finding alternative provision.
The prospect of additional nursery places answers a clear local need. There are more than 400 families on the waiting list for the existing popular nursery at the farm. In a world where grants are getting harder to win, the farm needs to generate more of its own income to ensure it is still here for future generations to enjoy.
A study last year showed that 41,000 children nationally missed out on a place at pre-school due to a lack of places available to them, as described in this Guardian article.