Shoreham playgroup celebrates 50th anniversary

A playgroup set up by parents as a way to support families in the north end of Shoreham still retains its community focus 50 years later.

Times have changed and the rules are different but the feel of Buckingham Playgroup is still one of home and family.

Staff, parents and children at Buckingham Playgroup's 50th birthday party. Picture: Steve Robards SR1819198

Staff, parents and children at Buckingham Playgroup's 50th birthday party. Picture: Steve Robards SR1819198

Manager Cheryl Lansley said: “It is a lovely group. Because we are a charity and committee-run by parents, they are heavily involved in everything we do, which makes it different to some other nurseries.”

An afternoon tea party for past and present parents and children was held on Friday to celebrate 50 years since opening the doors at the Scout Hall in Eastern Avenue.

The playgroup was started in 1968 as an extension of Shoreham Preschool Playgroup, commonly known as St Wilfreds, where the waiting list was large and it was decided extra premises were needed to give children living near Buckingham Park the benefit of learning and playing together.

Pat Bareham, a founder member, said: “All us parents who lived this end of town were asked if we would start forming a group. We were just supportive parents on the committee.

“It was different then. It really was a support system and we were very keen on that. We really didn’t have anything, we started from scratch and we were looking for ways to make money all the time.”

Pat explained playgroups became popular in the 1960s because of social need, founded by groups of parents as a self-help solution.

“In some areas, gone were the days where children could play out in the street with friends, parents could chat over the garden gate and people could find work in their local towns,” she said.

Shoreham had a couple of small, private groups but the largest and most popular was Shoreham Preschool Playgroup, housed at St Wilfrid’s, the old children’s home in Ham Road.

When it became obvious additional premises were needed, it was fortunate the Scout hut had been built in Ham Field, with nothing surrounding it but allotments and woodland.

A supervisor was appointed and with the engagement of families happy to move to the new group, Buckingham Playgroup was born.

Pat became the manager within about a year and remained there for 30 years, retiring about 11 years ago.

The ethos was learning through play and exploration and the committee’s outlook on education was ‘happy children will learn and it will stay with them for a lifetime, so let us make it fun’.

Pat added: “There was a parent duty system in place, so every parent could learn about meeting the needs of their children and others. It gave many parents a greater understanding of child development and it kept the fees lower.

“Fifty years on and it is gratifying that Buckingham Playgroup is still as strong as it has always been.”

Janet Still, also a former manager, said the playgroup was inspected by West Sussex County Council for many years but as time went on, Ofsted took over and new standards were introduced.

Janet said: “The playgroup has always been able to rise to new challenges. Myself and Helen Page introduced local visits and outings and guests were invited in to enrich the children’s learning.”