‘Sadness’ as East Preston children’s centre announces closure

The owners of a children’s centre in East Preston have announced they will be closing their doors after nearly 16 years of childcare.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 2:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th March 2021, 3:08 pm

Tim and Emma Jackson, who run Rascals Childcare in Lashmar Road, told parents and carers this week they have had no choice but to shut the centre due to huge losses as a result of the pandemic.

In a statement on Facebook, they said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the closure of Rascals.

“This decision was not made lightly but we have been closed for just over six months with no income and a building to maintain.

Rascals Childcare in East Preston. Picture contributed

“Unfortunately, we received no help from our landlord West Sussex County Council and our insurance claim was rejected.

“We will however continue until the end of term, our last day being April 1.”

This week, the couple, who have four children, said they were ‘just devastated’.

“It is our world,” added Emma.

“We absolutely love our jobs and providing our service to the community.”

Tim said the business suffered a staggering £45,000 loss from March 23, to July 19, last year. He added that he and Emma have used all of their personal savings and are now in debt.

“It is soul-destroying – we have never been in debt. We were going to go to New York for our 25th wedding anniversary but that won’t be happening now.”

The couple have just over three years left on a ten-year lease with the county council, which owns the building.

When the pandemic struck last March, they were forced to shut for 17 weeks with no income and had to refund all parents and carers.

They said this left them £4,000 short of their wage bill so they had to use their personal savings to pay their seven members of staff.

This continued in September at the start of the autumn term, they added, and when they returned to work in July, they could only operate with reduced numbers of children because of social distancing.

Tim said: “All our staff were furloughed but all other costs remained the same, insurance, utilities and rent.

“We have received no help from WSCC and were told that in order to get a rent payment deferred we had to submit our accounts for last year to show income and expenditure which would not be of any help to WSCC because it’s not a true reflection of what is happening right now.

“We asked for support many times from our landlord but we have had to now draw a line.”

He said they received a grant from Arun District Council for £10,000 but half of this had to go straight on their £10,000 annual rent.

They also secured a further £4,000 from the district council– but £2.500 of this also went on rent.

News of the closure has shocked the community – and Tim and Emma said many people have rallied to help them.

“We are overwhelmed by the love and support from everybody,” added Emma.

The couple’s son, Thomas, has set up a change.org petition calling on the county council to ‘save this small local business, which has been a massive part of the local community’. It has already been signed by more than 600 people.

A gofundme page has also been created by parents – with a target of raising £1,000.

Emma set up Rascal Childcare in 2005, with Tim leaving his firefighter job later to support her.

Up until the pandemic, the afterschool club was a huge success with the couple securing 250 children on their books.

District and parish councillor Andy Cooper said he has been helping Tim and Emma – and other businesses – with securing grants during the pandemic.

He said on Thursday (March 18), a discretionary fund had been secured for the couple.

“It is my understanding that this should be in their bank account on Monday.

“I am fully aware local businesses need support. Tim and Emma have been supporting the community for a long time. I am keen to help businesses survive.”

He added that he had spoken to county councillors ‘who were doing their best to help’.

District councillor Jamie Bennett also said: “After school childcare is a vital resource for parents and children alike. In March 2020 central government asked commercial landlords to help businesses with holiday rentals which Arun District Council were happy to do but West Sussex have failed.

“Rascals currently has over 250 families that will be affect by the closure.

“I urge WSCC to support not just this amazing facility but all of there tenants during this distressing time.”

A county council spokesman said: “We recognise the importance of Rascals Childcare in supporting children, especially throughout the pandemic and we are talking with the business owner about the help available to them.

“We know that some businesses, including nursery and childcare providers and out of school clubs are finding things difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is financial support available to businesses, including a staff furlough scheme and grants to cover costs such as rent, and we have communicated the help that is available to all early years providers in West Sussex, including to Rascals.”