THE START OF THE PLAYGROUP ASSOCIATION
The Fiveways Pre-School Playgroup owes its existence to the tenacity and vision of Deirdre Martin. Over eight years, she led the effort to establish the present Playgroup premises, uniting a diverse team. Originating from a 1961 letter to a national newspaper, the Playgroup idea gained momentum, drawing inspiration from New Zealand and American models. In 1963, a Brighton group of young mothers, after extensive efforts, secured St. Augustine’s Church Hall for their playgroup sessions. Fundraising, led by committee members Carol Jackman and Marion Oram, allowed for the purchase of play equipment. The inaugural session took place on September 7, 1965, with seven children.
THE REAL BEGINNING
In 1968, Fiveways Pre-School Playgroup expanded to 5 morning sessions weekly, utilizing a church hall and a nearby playing field for an hour each morning. Fees remained at 3/- (15p) per child, with the hall rent, supervisor, and assistant being compensated. The Playgroup Constitution was adopted in 1968, and Deirdre Martin, a dedicated member, became Chairman. Deirdre proposed building a dedicated facility due to limitations in the church hall. In 1969, the Committee, led by Deirdre, initiated fundraising efforts for a purpose-built building. Initial discussions with the Youth and Community Officer didn’t materialize, but in 1970, with support from the Director of Education, plans for a building took shape. Architect Stuart Fisher contributed designs, and fundraising intensified. By 1971, they aimed to raise £100 monthly for a £5,000 target in five years. The Playgroup’s aspirations faced challenges, including the Nursery School Association suggesting the fund be under a different name. The proposed building, a timber-framed structure with play areas, kitchens, and toilets, aimed to accommodate 30 children per session.
In January 1972, concerns arose about potential loss of control if a grant were secured, prompting further fundraising for a better building. By October 1972, a grant application for £4,000 was submitted, and discussions on loan terms ensued. Despite initial setbacks, fundraising continued through 1972. In January 1973, the Director of Education indicated no grant but favourable loan terms. A separate Committee was formed to handle the building project, but obtaining guarantors became a hurdle. The Playgroup considered second-hand buildings and sought funds to avoid a loan. Discussions with the Education Department led to applying for a grant. In June 1973, the building sections were delivered, and planning applications were approved by August. In August 1973, a grant of £1,000 and a loan of £2,000 over 20 years were secured, accompanied by the need for a “Sinking Fund.”
By December 1973, discussions continued on the sinking fund, causing concerns. A meeting in December clarified the terms, leading to plans for building construction. In January 1974, a solicitor finalized lease terms, Trustees were appointed, and the lease was signed on March 29, 1974, just before the deadline for the old Brighton Corporation’s transition to East Sussex County Council. With the lease secured, the stage was set for the actual construction of the purpose-built Fiveways Pre-School Playgroup building.
In the early years of Fiveways Pre-School Playgroup, fundraising efforts primarily relied on traditional methods like jumble sales and bazaars. These events, often held in St Augustine’s church hall, were crucial for covering day-to-day expenses and later contributed to the ambitious plan of constructing a new building. Jumble sales, while successful, presented challenges like limited space and the rush for the White Elephant stall. Alternating with jumble sales, Christmas Bazaars added a festive touch, featuring themed stalls and generous donations from local shopkeepers.
In 1968, the playgroup ventured into coffee mornings, marking a more refined fundraising approach. The first coffee morning, hosted in Deirdre’s garden, yielded a profit of £6.64p, signalling a shift toward diverse fundraising strategies. Despite these efforts, the necessity of raising substantial funds for the planned building in Florence Road field led to the exploration of new avenues. Collaborations with other groups, participation in local events like the Lions’ Carnival, and selling programs became additional sources of income.
An inventive idea for fundraising came from Pat Brown, an ex-member with an independent bookshop. She proposed a book fair, where the playgroup provided volunteers in exchange for a share of the proceeds. While organizing the rota posed challenges, the book fair became a refreshing departure from traditional jumble sales, consistently contributing generously to playgroup funds. Various events, including a Bonfire Party, Christmas Draws, sponsored walks, and Barn Dances, contributed to the fundraising efforts, each bringing its unique challenges and rewards.
Notable fundraising activities included selling Christmas cards and decorated plastic carrier bags, designed by playgroup parents. Barn Dances evolved from recorded music to live bands like the Pump and Pluck band, adding lively entertainment. The playgroup’s resourcefulness extended to unique events such as an autograph competition, whist drives, bridge lessons, and even a women’s football match against Woodingdean Playgroup.
Despite the successes, challenges persisted, particularly in the realm of card evenings – a predominantly male activity where the overall winner donated 10% of winnings to playgroup funds. The commitment to legal and enjoyable fundraising reflected the collective desire of ordinary families to provide the best possible environment for preschool children. Although the individuals involved have moved on, the legacy of dedication to Fiveways Pre-School Playgroup endures through the efforts of those who have taken up the mantle.
BUILDING THE BUILDING
In April 1974, after years of fundraising and negotiations, the Fiveways Pre-School Playgroup secured the necessary funds, including a loan and a grant, to authorize contractors to commence construction on their new building. Gratitude was expressed to supporters, particularly Mr. Antcliffe, the Director of Education, and Mr. Wood, the solicitor. The excitement of progress was tinged with the ongoing need for fundraising, given the monthly loan/mortgage payments.
Contractors began work in mid-April, attracting local press coverage with children watching the initial digger work. Construction continued through May and June, with sections of the building arriving in July. However, vandals damaged the structure by late July, necessitating adjustments to plans. Pressure to finish by September, in accordance with the lease, added urgency.
Financial challenges persisted, but an anonymous benefactor covered the mortgage for five months, providing much-needed relief. Staff members also took pay cuts to support the project. The summer, autumn, and winter saw immense community involvement, with parents dedicating weekends and evenings to various tasks, from manual labour to fundraising efforts.
Donations from local shops and companies, along with assistance from schools, helped stock necessary supplies. Notably, young volunteers from local schools, supervised by Deirdre and Marigold, played a vital role in the construction. By May, the second hall was operational, and the Mayoress of Brighton honoured the volunteers with silver tankards.
The playgroup aimed to have half the building operational by April 1975 for a holiday club during the Easter break. Stringent vetting processes involving Public Health, Building Control Inspector, and the Fire Brigade were undertaken, with a target to open by April 21, 1975. Deirdre announced her resignation from the Building Fund Chairmanship in March 1975, and plans were set for a new committee.
Despite personal challenges and moments of friction, the playgroup opened one hall in April 1975. The official opening was scheduled for September 22, 1976, marking six years since the first playgroup session in St. Augustine’s Church Hall. The journey was characterized by enduring friendships, mutual support, and the discovery of personal capabilities. The playgroup, standing strong, has continued to flourish, gaining OFSTED approval, achieving a substantial annual turnover, and contemplating future expansion—an outcome unimaginable in its humble beginnings in 1970.