A POPULAR village nursery is closing its doors after 30 years of childcare.

Mary Poppins Nursery in Athelstaneford has announced that its last day will be Friday, August 9, blaming the impact of the extension of funded hours by the Scottish Government for its impending closure.

Owner Ruth Dewar said: “The decision was a very painful one.

“In the past two years, it has been increasingly difficult to continue as a viable business. There are several factors influencing this, but the major factor which has tipped the balance is the extended funding hours and the negative impact this is having both financially on small businesses, like Mary Poppins, and to the quality of early learning and childcare.”

New Scottish Government policy instructs councils to increase their funded childcare hours from 600 to 1,140 by 2020. This move also includes longer opening hours and a move from term time to year-round opening hours to attempt to make childcare more nationally accessible.

Ms Dewar said: “The money received for funded places does not cover the costs of providing the quality of early learning and childcare which we want and are required to provide, especially with regards to staff costs.

“The timescales and measures that the Scottish Government has put in place to educate a workforce to meet the increased requirements are insufficient, and there is a serious shortfall to meet the requirements of the extended funding.

“East Lothian Council indicated it estimated it would require approximately 400 staff to facilitate the increase in funded hours in East Lothian. The majority of these posts are early learning and childcare practitioners.

“The local authority advertises early learning practitioner posts at between £13.63 and £14.90 per hour. Private nurseries are unable to compete with these rates of pay due to the funding rates we are allocated.”

A group of parents and staff, including Ms Dewar, are visiting county MSP Iain Gray to discuss the problems, but Ms Dewar added that unless he can “work a miracle and change the policy, then it is unlikely the decision to close the nursery will be reversed”.

When asked about the nursery, Mr Gray said: “The loss of any nursery provision is disappointing, particularly with the Government’s 1,140 funded hours policy set to be implemented next year.

“In the case of the Mary Poppins Nursery, the owner has highlighted a number of factors that have contributed to their decision to close.

“I have written to East Lothian Council about some of these issues.

“However, there are also wider issues at play here. The nursery sector has been warning the Scottish Government that private nurseries are struggling in the run-up to the roll-out of its flagship 1,140 policy from August 2020.

“Ministers must act quickly to address the sector’s concerns and ensure that the capacity exists to deliver the funded hours next year.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is, of course, concerning to hear of any nursery considering closure, and the obvious effects this might have on staff, parents and children.

“East Lothian Council has provided assurance that they will support families to find alternative early learning and childcare places for children who had been expecting to use the Mary Poppins Nursery from this August.”

Ms Dewar added: “I am distraught that circumstances have forced me to this decision and that such a wonderful place for children to experience their early years is to close.”

The decision was met with an outpouring of grief on social media.

The nursery’s recent 30th birthday was marked with a garden party.

The nursery was founded by Sue Armstrong, affectionately still called ‘Miss Sue’, after she had written to Mary Poppins author P L Travers to ask if she could use the name.

Miss Sue said: “I received many letters from P L Travers about the nursery.

“At the beginning, she wanted to know what the nursery was going to be like. She had no objection to me using the name, she just wanted to find out more. I ended up meeting her as well.

“We were hoping to get her to come and open the nursery 30 years ago, but her arthritis was bad. We stayed in touch, however. I would send her letters about how the nursery was getting on along with photos, and she would write back saying how she liked it, and ideas of what to do.

“She said that the children should be encouraged to make up their own stories. ‘Children like doing that,’ she said.”

Miss Sue sold the nursery to Ms Dewar in 2003 as she was “sick of all the paperwork”.

She said. “When I heard it was to close down, well, it’s just all so sad really. It’s such a terrible shame.

“It is such a nice and happy place for the children, homely and warm. It’s just awful that it can’t stay open.”

Miss Sue still attends events at the nursery, dressed as the iconic nanny Mary Poppins.

She added: “In the film, Mary Poppins says that she’ll stay until the winds change. Well, maybe this is the wind changing for Mary Poppins Nursery.”

Ward councillor Craig Hoy said: “The closure of the Mary Poppins Nursery is deeply regrettable but reflects the real pressures the independent sector is experiencing as a result of the SNP’s 1,140 hours policy.

"The Government faces huge problems to provide the free childcare it has promised. In many areas the level of nursery provision simply isn’t there and independent nurseries are already struggling financially with the planned expansion.”