Fury over shock nursery closure

Exterior of Jack and Jill's Nursery, Dam House, Astley Hall Drive, Astley - which has been issued with an eviction notice
Exterior of Jack and Jill's Nursery, Dam House, Astley Hall Drive, Astley - which has been issued with an eviction notice

A DOZEN staff face a bleak new year after a local nursery’s shock closure.

And more than 50 parents are now also in a race to find their children alternative accommodation so that they can return to work after the festive break.

Jack and Jill’s private pre-school was closed after landlords Morts Astley Heritage Trust foreclosed on the buildings they leased in the former nurses’ home in a dispute about a “five-figure” unpaid bill for rent.

Nursery nurses received confirmation that they had no jobs to go to on the eve of the annual children’s Christmas party - but too late to warn parents.

So they had the tearful task of standing outside their locked and barred premises as parents arrived - presents in hand - to tell them that the event was off and the facility wouldn’t now be re-opening.

After a “big battle,” owner David Jenkins has now, it is understood, paid all staff the month’s outstanding wages they were owed for December.

Initially a nucleus of the Jack and Jill’s ex-staff formed a syndicate with the hope of persuading the Heritage Trust of allowing them to re-open the nursery on a “not-for-profit after wages have been paid” basis.

But that dream for the Astley premises has now been abandoned.

There was no reply from the nursery’s telephone and entrepreneur Mr Jenkins was unavailable for comment.

In his text messages sent to staff, copied to the Wigan Evening Post, he complains about “harassment” by the nursery’s former staff in contacting his own parents as part of their own campaign to recover wages they said they were owed.

However, the former employees say they remain “angry and bitter” after being tipped off that he is allegedly on the point of opening a bar complex in Leeds early in 2013, which is already being advertised.

Council officers reacted quickly to the closure and have been working to help parents find alternative accommodation for their children.

A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “The Family Information Service holds a directory of all childcare provider details across the borough and can provide advice and guidance for parents and carers looking for suitable childcare for their children.”

The directory can be accessed online at www.wiganfis.org.uk/ or through the council’s website or by telephoning the contact centre helpline on 01942 828644.

The service itself provides information about immediate vacancies, opening times and costs.

Morts’ trustee Brian Wilson, the council’s former education chairman and councillor, said that it was with the “deepest regret” that they had been forced to re-take possession of the rooms occupied by Jack and Jill’s.

He said that despite repeated requests going back a number of years the six-year-old nursery business had failed to clear its debts and had not paid any rent or service charge at all over the past year.

But the Trust, a registered charity, “can no longer afford to subsidise this business,” he said.

Mr Wilson added: “If there had been any alternative to this course of action, we would have taken it and we have been working for 12 months to try and avoid this.

“This isn’t the first time rent and service charges have been seriously in arrears and while we have continued to pay heating and lighting costs on the nursery’s behalf for the past 12 months, we can no longer afford to keep doing so.”