The closure of the Spanish nursery in Portobello Road has left many of London’s Spaniards feeling frustrated.
The facility – which opened at the height of Spanish immigration in 1977 – is an independent establishment run by the Spanish Department of Employment and Social Work.
Its recent closure has had a huge impact on young families, whose older children attend the Spanish school (Instituto Cañada Blanch) on the same site, and who hoped to send their youngest to the nursery.
Silvana Lamport, whose eldest sons are enrolled at the school, has branded the closure a “logistical nightmare.
“For me the impact is huge, we are even considering moving house. We already travel in from far away and continuing to do so would only make sense if all my children attended the school and nursery at the same time,” she says.
The nursery is perceived to be a feeding system into the Spanish school, which is considered to be an important pillar of the community. There are rising fears among parents that depriving small children of a Spanish education from a young age would eventually lead to the demise of their culture.
Those affected are protesting because Spanish 3 and 4 year olds in all other Spanish state primary schools in Europe (Lisbon, Paris, Rome, Andorra), Morocco and Spain are still able to attend nursery. The Department of Employment and Social Work has pointed out that this is due to the fact that those establishments are run by another Spanish Department (Education, Culture and Sport). It seems however, that the arguments put forward have done little to diminish the parent’s anger.
“It is a lack of respect towards children under the age of four, who have had the right to attend a Spanish nursery in London for the last 37 years. It’s an embarrassment.”
Pat Rodriguez, the Secretary of the Nursery’s Parents Association, has led the fight against the closure but has been left feeling helpless and disappointed. “Personally, I feel that it is just tragic. I feel so upset about it. I think that it’s shameful that they are depriving future generations of children from going to this wonderful place,” she says.
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Sources from the Spanish Department of Employment and Social work insisted that the decision to close down the nursery was taken after careful consideration. They claimed that they maintained open and transparent communication, holding at least ten meetings with the Parent’s Association since May 2013. The Department confirmed that parents were given sufficient warning with regards to the closure, with an official note being sent out in September 2013.
Despite the parents putting together what they believe is a “viable” business plan which would provide the Spanish government with an annual rent of £90,000, the Department followed through with its decision to close down the facility on July 7. Their actions are based on the fact that “the nursery suffered severe, chronic financial and structural problems”. According to a source from the Department, the period from 2010 to 2012 presented a loss of 715.000 euros. Although monthly fees were raised to £410 per child last year, the Department explains that these were still significantly lower than the average £800/900 paid by parents in the same area.
Prior to Spain’s entry into the European Union in 1986, Spaniards had been unable to claim benefits from the British government, meaning that their possibility of opting into nursery education was significantly reduced. Since 1986, immigrants from Spain have enjoyed the same access to benefits as other nations, adding to the Department’s debate that the nursery has ceased to be necessary. The parents, however, insist that the demand for the nursery is still on the rise.
“The centre, which unlike London private nurseries, is only open during the school opening hours and on the same days as the school, has over 100 people on its waiting list. Those responsible for its running have insisted in throwing numbers at the press and the public in an attempt to justify their actions. Refusing to acknowledge that education is a children’s right and an investment in the future of society,” says Karin Flórez Borges, member of the Parent’s Association.
The Department continues to claim that the new wave of Spanish immigration is very different to that of the 1960s and 1970s.
“Our figures show that Spaniards arriving in London at the moment do so without children. They are young working professionals. Those that do emigrate with their families have children over the age of five, and are due to start primary education, proving that the nursery is no longer necessary,” says a source from the Department.
Although the Department of Employment and Social Work agrees with the families that the nursery provided “an excellent quality service,” their position has been unaltered throughout.
Former pupils have spoken out about their time at the nursery and evaluated the impact that its loss may have on the community.
Teresa Miño, 35, attended the nursery and then moved on to the Spanish School.
“I met some of my best friends to date at the Spanish nursery and it is a real shame that future generations of children will not be able to the same. These people are more than just friends, they are family, ” she says.
Thomas Edwards-Fernandez, 26, a former pupil and now a father of two has also reflected on his time at the nursery.
“I started a lifelong learning of the Spanish language which was essential for my home and school life. I strongly feel that the closure has robbed many London-based children the opportunity to learn Spanish from a young age and begin that journey that I undertook to become a fluent and confident bilingual speaker. On the other hand plenty of English schools and private nurseries are embracing foreign languages and providing these opportunities so I feel all is not lost,” says Thomas.
The Parent’s Association, who have expressed a sense of abandonment from the Spanish government, organised an e-petition to bring before the Spanish Ambassador, Mr Trillo-Figueroa, but claim that their requests to meet with him have been unfruitful.
At the time of publication, the Spanish Embassy had not replied to an interview request from The Spanish Armada.