Old First School?

poster 1st octAllendale Old School
Allendale Preschool is a charity, set up in the 1970s, to provide childcare and early years learning for the families of the Allen Valleys. The trustees of the charity are mostly parents of children attending Preschool. All income comes directly from the fees for the children attending and from fundraising.
In 2009, after a long period of fundraising and sub-standard accommodation, Preschool moved into a purpose built building attached to the former Allendale First School and rented from the County Council. In 2013, Allendale First School had become a primary school and moved to the former middle school site. The Preschool building remained as part of the old first school estate and the County Council remain Preschool’s landlord.
At the same time, the charity’s trustees took Preschool through some big changes, increasing the amount of outdoor activities the children do and taking on new, highly qualified staff. Parental approval ratings scored 100% happy or very happy and Preschool became recognised as delivering very high quality early years learning. As a result, instead of making a loss of several thousand pounds each year, Preschool charity is now breaking even.
As well as providing rewarding jobs for seven local people, Preschool also plays a vital role in making the Allen Valleys community sustainable. By providing childcare which parents are confident in, Preschool enables more parents to work or continue their own education, and so helps to keep young families resident in our valleys.
However there is demand for Preschool to provide care for younger children (we currently are licensed to provide for up to 24 children aged 2-5 years) and for longer hours – before and after the normal school day. Preschool would also like to increase the amount of space we have for outdoor play and learning.

The Current Position – Autumn 2014
The County Council are unwilling to split the estate, and have said that they may need to sell the asset – the old school building – at some point in the future. It is currently vacant, except for the part of the site occupied by Preschool.
Preschool trustees were already working with the Social Enterprise team of the County Council to help make the charity more sustainable in the long term. Part of this included looking at increasing our capacity, staff retention and income by extending our age range to younger children, and by increasing our opening hours.
The very large vacant building Preschool is attached to (ie the old school) could become a huge risk as it decays, or is sold. Potentially we could be evicted (our notice period is only 3 months), or have inappropriate neighbours take over the site. However, the trustees and staff have chosen to see this as an opportunity. We already have good links with the rest of the community – our children visit the Park, Co-op and Crafty Allsorts charity shop – so could we work with other community organisations to have this building as an asset for the community?

A Community Asset Transfer
The County Council offered the old school building as a community asset transfer if an appropriate organisation could be found to take it on. The Preschool charity is not set up to become a landlord organisation. Discussions have been ongoing with various community groups, including Fawside, the Parish Council, the Forge Studios, Sustainable Allendale and Natural Ability.
Thornley Leazes and the Library are the only organisations who have come forward with definite proposals for taking on space within the old school building, although other individuals, organisations and businesses have expressed interest in other spaces, including the Medway and field:
– Preschool to use the reception classroom so we can provide preschool learning and care for 0 – 2 year olds as well as 2-5 year olds
– Preschool to use the early years garden and some of the field so we can do more outdoor learning with all our children
– Thornley Leazes to use the oldest parts of the building to provide day activities, respite care and accommodation for local residents
– Thornley Leazes to use the kitchens to provide meals and meals-on-wheels
– Library to use the hall to home the library and provide community learning

As it stands today – 19th September 2014 – it appears that the best way forward would be for a new social enterprise, either a Charitable Incorporated Organisation or Community Interest Company, to be set up to accept the asset transfer from the County Council. This allows an ‘asset lock’ which means that the building would remain a community asset. This enterprise could then draw down funding from various grant sources and donations to refurbish the building and manage the tenancies for the various areas.
A meeting has been called for people interested in making a positive contribution towards these aims, either as directors of the new social enterprise or as lead volunteers for areas of work. If you are interested or have further questions please contact the trustees of Preschool via Yvonne Conchie on AllendaleOldSchool@gmail.com
The meeting will take place on Wednesday October 1st at 1pm in Allendale Village Hall.

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