NI childcare: Birdies Day Nursery to close amid cost and staff pressures

Birdies Nursery
The nursery has 60 childcare places and employs more than a dozen members of staff

A nursery in Lisburn has announced it will close within weeks because of cost pressures and difficulties in staff recruitment.

Birdies Day Nursery, which is privately run and has 60 places, wrote to parents that its last day will be 29 February.

Management said the decision was made with "unbelievable sadness".

"We understand that this will come as a shock to you and we apologise for the short notice, frustration and inconvenience caused."

The nursery has been operating for 33 years at Pond Park Road in the city.

"Unfortunately we are no longer viable as a setting due to increasing cost pressures and severe difficulties with staff recruitment in the childcare sector," they continued.

"We fear that quality of care is not possible in the longer term."

'Where are they going to go?'

Nadine McKenna was getting her son, Charlie, ready for bed on Thursday evening when she received a message informing her of the nursery's decision to close within the next three weeks.

"It was just initial shock, disappointment... I was saddened, I was then angry," she told BBC News NI.

"There was a whirlwind of emotions going on."

Ms McKenna works full time and said she relies on local childcare.

"It's just, what now? Charlie loves it, he goes in with open arms every day, they way he's come on is just phenomenal," she said.

Nadine McKenna
Nadine McKenna says her family are experiencing a "whirlwind of emotions" after receiving news of the closure

She said her family's life has been "thrown upside down a little bit" after receiving the news.

"What about his friends, where are they going to go? How do I make it easier for Charlie, how do I make it easier on us as a family?" she asked.

The family is now looking for alternative childcare arrangements nearby.

"It's really difficult, there's 60 families that need immediate childcare," she said.

Staff members shocked

Birdies' staff member Emma Hull told BBC News NI that parents and employees have been "totally taken aback" by the decision.

More than a dozen members of staff are affected by the nursery's closure, she said.

On Wednesday afternoon, staff were asked to attend a meeting the following day.

"There was a man coming to talk to us... we thought it was being bought over or something, but he was actually from HR," Ms Hull said.

While she understands it has been a hard decision to make, Ms Hull said it has been "a big shock" because there had been no previous indications of the nursery struggling.

She said parents are "devastated" but are doing their best to support the staff as they search for new childcare arrangements.

"When they're ringing around nurseries, they're also trying to get the staff jobs... they're fighting our corner."

'Work will progress at pace'

A spokeswoman from the Department of Education said that it is "acutely aware of the sustainability pressures which many early learning and childcare providers are currently facing."

"The impact of rising costs and minimum wage increases has undoubtedly put a strain on their financial stability, unfortunately making some no longer viable," she added.

"The Education Minister is clear that we need a strong, vibrant and valued early years sector to support child development and enable parents to work," she said.

The Early Learning and Childcare Strategy "will have a focus on these issues, and this work will progress at pace."

'Really disappointed'

In a separate development, some parents in Northern Ireland have received a letter in error offering them 15 hours of free childcare by His Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

In England, all parents and carers of three and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours a week of childcare support with registered childcare providers.

However, almost 400 letters were mistakenly sent to parents in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

A government spokesperson said the affected families have been contacted again.

"Around 380 letters were sent to customers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland," an HMRC spokesperson said.

"We have contacted these customers to apologise for any confusion caused and we have asked them to disregard the letter."

Becca Harper, co-founder of organisation Melted Parents NI, told BBC News NI that parents are "really disappointed", especially at a time when childcare costs are "so deep".

She added 15 hours a week of free childcare would be "life-changing" for families and the letter gave brief hope of this.

A pre-school teacher playing with a little boy
By September 2025, most working families in England with children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours of childcare support

The group Melted Parents NI was contacted by families who had received the letter, asking if they were now entitled to the free childcare.

"It's not nice for us to be the bearers of bad news. We knew it was a mistake," Ms Harper told BBC News NI.

The letters were issued as part of the rollout of an expanded childcare offer in England.

From April 2024, eligible working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours childcare support.

By September 2025, most working families with children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours of childcare support.

Parents have previously told BBC News NI that Northern Ireland is being left behind by not matching childcare support on offer in England.

Education Minister Paul Givan said provision of affordable childcare is at the top of his agenda.

"I have ambitious plans to deliver a strategy that will deliver for families and children," he said.

"I trust other Executive Ministers will meet their rhetorical commitments to childcare with the necessary funding to deliver on our shared agenda.

"Work will continue at pace to develop a strategy which will both meet the developmental needs of young children and help to reduce the cost of childcare for working parents," he added.