THE community of Welshpool and district turned out in force on a freezing Wednesday evening last week to show support for their local kindergarten.
The meeting was called as part of a consultation for the Early Years Infrastructure Review: Satellite Services of Corner Inlet.
South Gippsland Shire Council’s director of community services, Jan Martin, who conducted the meeting, said later that the size of the crowd and the views expressed reinforced the message that had already come through, via a similar community meeting at Toora and the results of a Prom Coast Centres for Children survey, that the community is keen to retain four separate sites for Early Years services across the Corner Inlet area – at Welshpool, Toora, Fish Creek and Foster.
Council owns the Early Years (kindergarten/playgroup) buildings in Toora, Welshpool and Fish Creek, with Prom Coast Centres for Children providing the kindergarten service. Mindful of the challenge of balancing the cost of maintaining three separate satellite facilities with the demand for children’s services, Council is exploring options for the future.
“This is an opportunity for you to say what you want for the Welshpool Kindergarten, so that we can take your views back to Council. We’re looking at all Early Years facilities in the Corner Inlet district, though tonight the spotlight is on Welshpool,” explained Ms Martin, addressing the crowd.
She stressed that Council was not considering shutting down any kindergarten. “It’s just that four kindergarten buildings is a lot for an area with a small population and some need an upgrade. The question is where should we invest our money.”
Ms Martin was accompanied by the shire’s manager of children and family services, Sally Baker, and project officer Shelley Fixter. Coastal Promontory ward councillors Jeanette Harding (Mayor) and Mohya Davies also attended.
Several members of the community got to their feet to voice their support for Welshpool kindergarten and playgroup and to express in no uncertain terms their opposition to any loss of services in the district. The speakers included long-time community leaders Llew Vale and Eddie Fowler, as well as younger parents such as Allan Van Kuyk and Lisa Monod-de-Froideville. The latter pointed out the healthy state of the Welshpool playgroup, which is run from the kindergarten premises. It is at capacity, with 40 children from 26 families attending. Ten people are on a waiting list and consideration is being given to running a second playgroup session.
Each of these speakers was roundly applauded by the fired-up 60-strong audience.
Cr Harding’s stated assumption that an increase in employees at the dairy factory at Toora would lead to a growth in the kindergarten population at Toora did not go down so well with the crowd. Several questioned her logic. Generally, however, the mood of the meeting was good-humoured.
Ms Martin said that it was generally recognised that the Welshpool building is in need of a kitchen and toilet upgrade, while Toora needs a major $1 million rebuild and this could possibly be based at the local school.
A scenario involving Council retaining a centre at Fish Creek and planning for one new centre to replace the Toora/Welshpool centres is no longer being considered, Ms Martin assured the meeting. It was initially under consideration but was given such short shrift by parents – in surveys and at the Toora community meeting – that it has since been shelved. “There is no consideration of just one centre for Toora and Welshpool,” she said.
Ms Martin pointed out the importance of general consensus about projects in order to be successful in grant applications, and said Council was keen to have the community on side. The views of the community will be gathered from Wednesday night’s meeting, she said, and included in a report, with recommendations for action, to Council. Councillors will discuss the report at a strategic briefing (closed to the public and press) and will then make a decision on the report at an open meeting of Council, hopefully before the end of the year.