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'Had we been able to avoid this we would have,' say Country Bumpkins owners following shocking nursery closure

By Federica Stefani

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Country Bumpkins nursery closed on Monday. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Country Bumpkins nursery closed on Monday. Picture: Callum Mackay.

THE owners of a private nursery in Ardersier which closed without warning at the weekend said they were "extremely disappointed and upset" following a damning inspection report published yesterday.

Country Bumpkins announced on Sunday that it was to go into administration from Monday morning (June 12), sparking reaction from parents and staff.

Talking to the Inverness Courier, owners Emma and Ryan Mathieson said they were forced to cease trading to avoid further losses.

They said: "We would like to sympathise with the staff, parents and children as they have lost a wonderful nursery and 32 staff have lost their jobs at a very challenging time. Had we been able to avoid this we would have.

"We had been trying to recruit qualified staff for several months and hoped things would improve but sadly they didn’t.

"Going forward with not enough staff, high agency costs and further investment would mean we would be operating at significant losses, we therefore had a duty as directors to cease trading as soon as we realised this to avoid further losses to the company and local suppliers.

"We would like to thank Highland Council and local Private Providers for helping to try and accommodate our children into other facilities."

A report published yesterday by the Care Inspectorate stated that the nursery failed to look after children in its care including in terms of the safe management and administration of medicine.

Mrs and Mr Matheson however said they were left extremely disappointed and upset after the inspection in May, which according to them overlooked the positive aspects of the nursery.

They said: "We accept that after battling two years of Covid restrictions we had improvements to make, some of which were addressed straight after the inspection.

"Contrary to the report's findings, our nursery was actively undergoing refurbishment from February and thousands of pounds worth of maintenance had already been spent with more completed in May. We had made significant investments to improve the infrastructure and facilities post Covid in order to enhance the overall experience for both children and parents.

"It is disappointing that the report failed to mention this ongoing commitment to maintaining a safe and welcoming environment despite being informed of emails from our Joiner confirming timeline and rooms to be refurbished. Instead the Toddler room was described as ‘neglected’ and ‘this did not give the message to the children that they mattered’. Context is key!"
They added that they found "disheartening" that the Care Inspectorate's report "barely acknowledged the positive aspects of our nursery.

"It seems to focus predominantly on perceived negatives, creating an unbalanced and misleading representation of our establishment.

"Wherever there were positives in the report, they were immediately offset by a negative comment. Our wonderful Forest School Lessons were not even mentioned in the report nor were our fantastic community links.

"We would like to thank our families, all staff, parents & children from the day we opened, to the day we closed, for making Country Bumpkins such a great place to be.

"Special mention of the late David Hourston for convincing us to pursue this venture 11 years ago, we have no regrets."

Following the announcement, parents and nursery workers got in touch with each other via the nursery app and social media to organise emergency combined care for some children this week to allow parents – who include blood transfusion staff, police officers and procurator fiscals – to continue working.

Commenting on the news of the report on the Inverness Courier Facebook page, Nikki Nagler – a parent of one of the children who used to go at Country Bumpkins – said: "This says everything in my opinion. Staff were working so hard to support our children and to have them treated like this is just shocking."

Another parent, Kate MacRae, commented: "It's been an absolutely horrendous shock. No warning whatsoever that this was coming and in an instant it has completely turned lives upside down! I really hope we can all find alternative places for our children and that the wonderful staff who our children were so fond of for many years find new positions quickly."

To help some of the members of staff in their job search Kayleigh McDine, a swimming teacher and who runs Mini First Aid Moray, Speyside & Nairn is offering free spaces for an Emergency Paediatric First Aid Course this Sunday at Duffus Village Hall.

She said: "Many families with children attending my swimming classes have been impacted by the closure, whether as parents of members of staff. I just wanted to help with what I can as staff will be on the look for new jobs and maybe they need to renew their first aid training qualification, so I hope this will help those who have been left without a job."

Anyone wishing to attend can contact at kayleigh@minifirstaid.co.uk.

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