Preschool celebrates 50 years in town

By Christine McKay

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Staff and children from the over-2s section of First Years Preschool, with centre manager Lisa Bond (centre). Photo / Christine McKay
Staff and children from the over-2s section of First Years Preschool, with centre manager Lisa Bond (centre). Photo / Christine McKay

When a group of Dannevirke women first mooted a preschool for our town, they were accused of being homewreckers and communists.

Now 50 years on, First Years Preschool is celebrating its special place in our community.

"It wasn't common in those days to ditch the kids and in the 1960s there were those who thought this centre wasn't needed, but they were clearly wrong," said Barbara Ferguson, an original fundraising committee member.

Barbara Olsen, a wife of a local policeman, ran Kiddies Corner in the old Coronation Hall, but it was simply a place women from the country could leave their young children so they could go to appointments, Mrs Ferguson said.

"A wonderful woman, Mrs Mackie, came in every day to make morning and afternoon tea for the children and, encouraged by Frith Roberts, the manager of the Bank of New South Wales, a group of us decided to fundraise for a childcare centre.

"Mr Roberts encouraged us because what some in the community didn't understand was that country women needed somewhere to leave their children at times. Our children were too young to get into kindergarten," Mrs Ferguson said.

The centre opened in 1966 as the Dannevirke Community Day Nursery, after Mrs Ferguson and a group of dedicated women worked hard to raise the £1800 to buy the original premises in Allardice St.

"We had to do huge amounts of fundraising, but we had so much fun, too. We even sold $20 interest-free debentures from a caravan on High St," Mrs Ferguson said.

In those early days you could join the Dannevirke Community Day Care Nursery society for an annual subscription of just 50 cents and the charge for an hour of care for your child was 70 cents, with 50 cents charged for each following hour.

"The centre was a new concept in childcare in Dannevirke and now it's thriving," Mrs Ferguson said.

In 2001 First Years opened its area for under-twos and in the past 50 years thousands of children have gone through the centre.

"This is a really special place and we are such a big part of our community," centre manager Lisa Bond said. "Even if our families have gone, they still come to visit."

Jodi Ferrick, one of the first children Ms Bond looked after at the centre, is back working part-time.

"We have a very strong sense of history and we want to continue to provide, quality learning and care," Ms Bond said.

Ms Bond has been at the centre for 16 years and said she has a huge sense of responsibility because of the place First Years holds in our community.

"Once you've worked here, this place gets in your blood and staff tend to stay," she said.

While plenty has changed in 50 years, some things remain the same as Ms Bond discovered when looking at the first minute book.

"Some of those early issues such as funding are the very issues we are facing now."

Mrs Ferguson will cut the 50th anniversary cake at a special open day on Saturday and Ms Bond is hoping past parents and children will attend.

Celebrating 50 years:

* Saturday, November 19, 10am to noon.
* The centre will be open for viewing.
* Cake cutting and speeches 11.30am.
* Morning tea supplied.
* All welcome.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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