Nursery Owners Blame London Diocese for Closure

Caterpillar Nursery on South Parade closing due to state of buildings

The building used by the nursery on Acton Green
The building used by the nursery on Acton Green

December 31, 2022

The owners of the Caterpillar Nursery on South Parade are blaming the Anglican Diocese of London for forcing its closure.

The popular childcare facility, which used the Montessori method, has shut after it was ruled that the buildings in which it was located were no longer viable and could not be insured. The nursery owners claim that this is a result of a failure by the Diocese to properly maintain them.

The nursery, which has been at the site next to St Alban’s Church since 1989, had a waiting list for places and was rated as ‘Good’ by OFSTED during its last inspection in 2017. It has helped raise generations of children in Chiswick with the children of some former pupils attending. The majority of staff held a Montessori Diploma and the school combined the Montessori method of education with the Early Years Foundation Stage.

It was established by Melanie Haward after she completed her Montessori training. It was set up in the prefabricated huts outside the Church which served as a Church Hall and was let out by the Diocese of London which owned the land.

The nursery has been operating in St Albans Church Hall since 1989
The nursery has been operating in St Albans Church Hall since 1989

A building that had been used earlier by the nursery was demolished in 2000 after a dispute between the Diocese and another tenant and it was replaced by the Portacabins currently on the site which The Diocese says were let out to the nursery at a below market rate.

The nursery secured a lease on the new temporary buildings lasting five years, but an extension proved difficult to finalise. It emerged in 2013 that the Diocese had been in discussion with property developers with a view to converting the Church into flats. The owners believe the Diocese had procrastinated over the grant of a lease because they had been planning for some time to sell the building and didn’t want a tenancy to complicate the transaction. The developers were sympathetic to the position of the nursery and promised to include specially built premises in the development. However, following objections from local residents to the plan some of whom were unhappy with the nursery for working with the developers, it was eventually withdrawn.

Despite the Church being returned to its original purpose and a number of new vicars appointed, there was no resolution on the issue of the nursery’s lease. At the same time the buildings continued to deteriorate.

Laurence Haward, Melanie’s husband who acts as the School Secretary said, “As time passed the buildings that house the Nursery School began to depreciate, literally, in the end, to fall apart. As a background character to all of this, I never failed to marvel at the way that Melanie and her teaching staff managed to continue to provide, increasingly against the odds, a brilliant service, and to inspire generations of children. They’ve been doing this for almost thirty five years, and in that time some of our original children have had children of their own who have also attended Caterpillar. Parents have been prepared to look past the shabby outward appearance of the premises and see the soul within. As a result, people are still knocking on the door even as we close it. If we had another Nursery School in the area we could fill it up tomorrow.”

Little or no maintenance was done on the buildings by the Diocese and the nursery eventually fixed on the expedient of paying for any necessary repairs and deducting it from next month’s rent. The Diocese tacitly accepted this arrangement, but matters came to a head a few months ago when the ceiling of the ‘Green Hall’ collapsed missing Melanie by a few inches. Emergency repairs were effected by nursery staff but the Head of Properties for the Diocese ruled the hall unsafe requiring the nursery school to be consolidated into just one building.

It had been rated as good at its last OFSTED and had a waiting list for places
It had been rated as good at its last OFSTED and had a waiting list for places

After this point, according to Mr Haward, The Diocese wrote to Caterpillar saying that the arrangement in which repairs were deducted from rent must end adding that the state of the buildings was now such as to make them uninsurable.

This effectively meant that the nursery was being evicted and Caterpillar informed The Diocese that it was leaving at the end of last term.

The vicar of Christ Church, Richard Moy, who oversees St. Alban’s, told the Hawards that he had no idea that the nursery was set to leave. The parish is not responsible for the management of the outbuildings of the Church, they are run by the Diocese.

Reverend Moy said, “Despite this setback Christ Church W4 remain committed to seeing the whole of St Alban’s site become the beating heart of the community, building on their great success renovating the church. We look forward to working with the diocese as well as community and neighbourhood groups to see that dream become a reality. “

Mr Haward says that they have offered to pay for a complete rebuilding of the nursery in return for a secure lease and have a sponsor willing to pay a million pounds for the land where it is sited.

The Diocese of London has been approached for comment.

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