Tiny Toons playgroup hit by budget cuts

Tiny Toons playgroup hit by budget cuts

17 May 2017

A BALLYHORNAN playgroup has vowed to remain in business despite failing to secure vital funding for the second time in two years.

The Tiny Toons cross-community playgroup, which caters for 22 children and employs three staff members, insists that despite the funding snub, it intends to keep providing a pre-school service which recently impressed education inspectors.

The playgroup was informed last week that its latest bid to secure funding from the Pathway Fund via the Department of Education had been unsuccessful.

Patricia Curran, chairwoman of the school’s Board of Governors and the head of the Ballyhornan and District Community Association which runs the playgroup, said staff and children have been left “high and dry.”

She said the group is facing a second year without the funding it requires and revealed the financial situation was so bad last Christmas that the proceeds of a raffle were used to pay the wages of one of the staff members.

Mrs Curran said while the Early Years organisation has worked hard on the playgroup’s behalf in a bid to secure Pathway funding, no money is available for a service which she says is on a par with any other available anywhere in Northern Ireland.

“We have had to become self-sufficient through necessity in the absence of the level of dedicated funding we require, but it should not have to be like this,” she declared. “Our numbers have been steady since our launch in 1994 and we have enjoyed great support from parents. We have been told the decision not provide us with statutory funding is final and we have no right of appeal.

“Up until two years ago we received funding to pay two members of staff with fundraising covering the wages of our third employee. Once again we have to find £22,500 to meet our wage bill. That is money that is retained in the local economy. We are not provided with assistance to meet our overheads and our financial situation has meant we have been unable to organise outings for the children.”

Mrs Curran said staff are paid over the summer months, admitting that at this point in time she does not know where that money is going to come from. She said a separate application for interim funding to cover wages for the first three months of 2017 secured just £1,417. The playgroup had asked for £6,000.

“We do not know where we go from here,” she continued. “We have been working with MP Margaret Ritchie and Early Years has been fighting our case. We believe the problem is at Department of Education level. It won’t provide us with the money we need,” she explained.

“We face a battle when it comes to funding. I could walk away but would never do that as Tiny Toons means so much to me, the children, their parents and the wider Ballyhornan community. We have fought too long and too hard to give up now. We follow the same curriculum as other pre-schools and deserve the same funding allocation.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said Tiny Toons was a former recipient of the Early Years Fund which had funded around 150 groups since 2004. She said the Early Years Fund was replaced by the Pathway Fund in April last year, opening the scheme to all eligible providers in the early years sector with the fund administered by The Early Years Organisation (EYO).

“Tiny Toons applied to the Pathway Fund but following evaluation by EYO did not score highly enough against the criteria to be awarded funding. The playgroup was given the opportunity to apply for interim support from the Department for the period January to March 2017, however EYO, which evaluated applications, has advised the Department that information to support the application has not been provided. The Department has allowed a further period for return of the information and is seeking clarification from EYO on the current position.”

The spokeswoman said Tiny Toons receives funding via the Education Authority for the provision of ten pre-school education programme places for the 2016/17 academic year.