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Nursery manager Sharon McCrea refused to stop caring for two little girls with special needs after the council cut her funding. Instead she got the money she needed to help them by knocking on doors in her High Street.
The manager at Northfields Pre-School in West Ealing can’t describe how grateful she is to the local estate agents and cafe who stepped in to pay for support for two children who arrived at the nursery with ‘very, very, special needs’.
'Neither of them could walk'
“When they first arrived with us, neither of them could walk”, says Ms McCrea thinking back to September 2015.
One of the two-year-olds was having “mini-seizures all the time". “You couldn’t leave her. You couldn’t take your eyes off her she would have these drop fits".
Fits that caused the child to drop to the ground meant, “Everything with her took time and patience. We know now that the crying and the screaming she was in an awful lot of pain".
She adds: “The child with Down’s Syndrome was shuffling on her bottom and needed a lot of encouragement to stand.”
With three staff and 24 children at the nursery, Ms McCrea approached Ealing Council for help and initially received funding to pay for a nursery worker to work two mornings a week from October 2015 for the first year.
The extra worker’s tasks included clearing away paints and supervising other children’s activities, while the two girls received one-to-one support from staff members.
'We did have some happy times with her'
Of the little girl having fits she says: “Before she came to us she was developing like a lovely little girl. By the time, she came to us she was starting to deteriorate. We got her to say a few words while she was with us.
“We did have some really happy times with her. The work was immense.”
After the first year, “we said to them [Ealing council] these children were staying on for the next year and were told ‘Yes that’s okay’, but not long after the nursery got some bad news.
'Sorry the funding's been cut'
In September 2016, “a week into the Autumn term of the second year, Ealing council just called us and told us ‘Sorry the funding’s been cut’ and we thought ‘Now what are we going to do?’
“We needed help. We can’t turn those children away.”
Instead of telling the children’s parents they would need to pay more for the additional care, Ms McCrea, went out to secure monthly sponsorship from local businesses to pay for the extra staff member. Referring to her decision to knock on doors in Northfield Avenue, the local high street, she says: “We do that anyway because we’re a charity.
Ms McCrea, who has spent 28 years working at the non-profit nursery, which has management committee made up of parents, says “All of our equipment and everything that the children use is purchased by fundraising.
'Butchers will give burgers'
“Christmas raffle prizes usually come from local businesses. The local butchers will give burgers and sausages for a barbecue, the chemist will give a gift pack for the raffle. “Restaurants and hairdressers will give vouchers.”
“Northfield is like a village in London. We’ve got a lovely little high street”.
To make up the £220 a month funding cut, Adams Estate Agents at 22 Northfield Avenue paid £200 every month from September-December 2016 to cover the extra worker’s wages.
Since January 2017, Sargeants Estate Agents at 141 Northfield Avenue, has now taken over the nursery’s sponsorship, paying £200 each month for the year in return for a company logo on the nursery’s newsletter, website and its paperwork. Since September 2016, Papillon cafe at 147 Northfield Avenue has been giving the nursery £20 each month.
It was Dean Sargeant owner of Sargeants, who after hearing about the two girls, asked the nursery manager ‘Do you want to keep her on?’
“The children aren’t here anymore but it benefits if there was another child that came with additional needs. The staff member’s still with us.
“That’s the heart-warming story that through the generosity of local businesses we were able to keep them on and get them both walking. “
Of the girl with Down’s Syndrome, the manager says “The little girl is thriving”, but the constant care and effort for both girls she says was ‘immense’.
Describing the support given to the child having seizures, she says: “Eventually we got her to say a few words, managed to get her talking. At one stage, we got her peddling a tricycle it was lovely. We got her to climb the slide.
"Literally it was through so much perseverance and then a couple of seizures later you could just see the deterioration and suddenly she could barely put one foot in front of the other and the skills just got lost."
Referring to the little girl, who is no longer at the nursery, she says: “She really did enjoy coming. Every time she had a seizure she would lose some of the skills that she had. She can’t talk.”
'The abruptness of it is appalling'
Referring to how she feels about the council’s decision to cut funding, Ms McCrea says: “I understand that cuts need to be made I just think the abruptness of it is appalling.
“Literally it was a phone call it wasn’t even a letter, it was done in the most appalling way.
‘There’s no money. It’s shocking because there’s children out there where do they go if they need additional help? It’s no good giving 30 hours ‘free’ but taking away from children who are the most needy. It’s wrong, it shouldn’t happen.”
Sharon McCrea was named Nursery School Worker of the Year at the 2017 Towergate Care Awards on 23 March, after being chosen from hundreds of nursery staff from across the country.
On her care award she says: "Oh my gosh! I was overwhelmed really we are just a humble pre-school. I know in pre-schools, we all have to raise funds somehow. If you want the best for your children I think what you’ve got to do now is be inventive."