THE chairman of Sunbeams – which is set to close after 40 years – has warned it will “not be the last” community pre-school to go, due to a “clear governmental agenda.”

Anne Eyre, who has chaired the management committee for six years, said conversations about securing the pre-school’s future began not long after she took over.

She believes the government’s drive for children to attend funded pre-schools based in primary schools is making it impossible for the likes of Sunbeams – run by volunteers at Mission Free Church on Bromwich Road.

Mrs Eyre claims the writing was on the wall when, speaking in 2014, then-childcare minister Sam Gyimah spoke about the perceived benefits of either “school nurseries alongside private ones” and that more schools should “offer nursery provision”.

He said the government would do “everything we can to give parents the choice” between the two.

Mrs Eyre said no mention of the “thousands of voluntary pre-schools and the contribution they have made” was a sign that such services were being quietly ushered out.

“This agenda is probably what has made it most difficult for us to continue operating,” she told the Worcester News.

The provision of early years care and education has changed a great deal in recent years, including the introduction of 30 hours of funded care – not available to voluntary pre-schools.

She said the church had given them rent free accommodation in recent times, while the commitment of her voluntary staff – who “so believed in what we were offering” – was second to none.

Sunbeams has been an official educational establishment since 1992, having evolved from a playgroup.

Mrs Eyre added: “As a parent, I chose a not-for-profit setting for my children because I did not want their early years development to be motivated by profit,” she said. "I also wanted an environment which concentrated on natural development through play instead of the sometimes more formal nature of school-based settings.”

Mrs Eyre said the numbers of parents able to volunteer was also declining and the committee had toyed with converting into a community interest company/social enterprise. This would have enabled the pre-school to retain its not-for-profit ethos without relying on volunteers.

An extraordinary general meeting will be held on Monday (November 12) at 2pm, to vote on a motion to close down from November 15.