A POPULAR pre-school which is set to breathe fresh life into a “dormant” former NHS clinic is appealing for help to raise the £25,000 required to renovate the building.

St Stephen’s pre-school, which has taught children and helped struggling families since 1978, faced an uncertain future after it was served with notice to vacate its home in Monkwick, Colchester.

Manager Chrissie Palmer said: “We were at St Stephen’s Church for 42 years and are one of the oldest pre-schools in Colchester.

“We set up a Facebook page to find new premises and we had an amazing response.”

Berechurch ward councillor Dave Harris put Chrissie in touch with the owner of the now-closed Monkwick Clinic, which was shut by health bosses in 2017.

“Dave said we should inquire about this building, he gave us the owner’s number and between us we managed to work out a deal,” said Chrissie.

“She is letting us have it at a reduced rate for the next year.

“We are a non-profit organisation so we were quite open about that and managed to reach an agreement.

“We explained it isn’t something for us, but for everybody – children and parents.”

The pre-school, which typically welcomes 50 children per day and supports 80 families, is now working frantically to get the building ready for September.

Chrissie also plans to run an after school club from the building.

The school was forced to shut during lockdown due to the fact it operated from a shared premises with the church.

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But that didn’t stop its staff from supporting families in their own homes.

“We were in a shared premises in the church, and the stipulations from the Government were quite strict for shared premises,” said Chrissie.

“It was really now or never to find somewhere else to open in time for the September intake.

“We did have key workers’s children to support, but then we had to close.

“So instead we carried out socially distanced home visits, quite a lot of the families are under social care and we visited to help, giving out goody bags to children, basically all we can do to help.

“One of the only things to come out of this situation is it has brought communities together.”

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The building needs extensive work to make it fit for purpose as a school, including the demolition of partitioning walls, the installation of a new roof and the renovation of some rooms and walls.

Thankfully, because of the school’s history and place within the community, people have already been willing to give up their time to help.

Chrissie said: “We’ve never really had this opportunity before, where we have people on furlough who are happy to give up their time, people would typically be busy.

“But people are now going back to work, so anyone who can help with fixing up the place please get in touch.

“The roof needs replacing, one side of the building has mould and damp, while the other just needs a freshen up and a bit of paint.

“Staff and husbands have been coming in and have been amazing, and we have already started working.

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“We have partitioning walls where the NHS needed smaller rooms, whereas we need them bigger.

“The garden is pretty much done, that was completely overgrown, and the office has been set up.”

The most important aspect of reopening for Chrissie and her team of around 16 staff members is to offer children a bit of normality.

“The children have been without us for three months and we don’t want to be closed for any longer than necessary,” she said. “It is a long time for them to be without the routine of school.”

A room will also be set aside specifically for struggling single parents to receive support and socialise.

A fundraising page can be found at justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ststephenspreschool.