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Caithness nursery gets a reprieve from Highland Council

By Gordon Calder

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A REPRIEVE has been granted to a Caithness nursery which was under threat of closure after Highland Council axed its £28,000 funding.

Parents and staff at the Scallywags nursery at Crossroads school were "shocked and horrified" the facility was to close after the summer holidays and started a campaign to get the local authority to reverse its decision.

The campaign was supported by Caithness Highland councillors, the Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council and the public. A petition was also launched.

The Scallywags nursery has won a reprieve
The Scallywags nursery has won a reprieve

A Highland Council spokeswoman yesterday confirmed the closure threat to the nursery has been removed. She also said the local authority would continue to fund the facility.

"The Council had an extensive meeting with Scallywags and local members recently and will continue to engage with them. We are working together with Scallywags to open the nursery on August 19," she added.

Karen Williamson, the early years practitioner and manager at Scallywags, welcomed the reprieve. She said: "We are delighted that following a meeting between Highland Council management and the Caithness councillors, Scallywags Nursery will remain open in August.

"We are very grateful to everyone for their support, especially our local community, Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council and the Caithness councillors. A huge thank you to everyone for signing and sharing our petition online and locally."

Wick and east Caithness Highland councillor, Raymond Bremner, said: "I’m really pleased that we have had the ability to review this at local level and reverse the decision to close the nursery. I and other members were well aware of the concerns in the local community which were certainly well voiced to me at the local community council. Local members were not happy with the proposals and called for a special meeting. It was important that we did this before the new term to give parents, teachers and the local community some peace of mind. As a result, the nursery will continue after the new term begins. One of the main issues we were looking to address was the effect it could have on depopulation which is a key issue for us here in Caithness and hopefully the reversal of this decision will contribute to efforts to mitigate this."

Bill Mowat, vice-chair of the Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council, said: "This reprieve has shown that pressure from local councillors and community councillors can have some influence.

"It is now hoped Scallywags will continue to provide practical benefit for generations of pre-school bairns. The fear was that if the nursery closed and the bairns went to Castletown instead they would want to go to school there and that would have impacted on the school and the wider community. It would also have encouraged rural depopulation, something which is totally opposed in the Highland Council's Caithness and Sutherland Development Plan."

Under the closure plan, the youngsters would have been transferred to other facilities at Castletown, Canisbay or Thurso at the start of the autumn term. Opponents said that couldthreaten the long-term viability of the school, which has a long association with the royal family and is close to the late Queen Mother's former home at the Castle of Mey.

Scallywags nursery has been at Crossroads school since 2007 and was previously the Dunnet Playgroup. It received £28,000 from Highland Council last year.

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