A fond farewell to the much-loved Buckingham Pre-school Playgroup

After the Buckingham Pre-school Playgroup sadly closed its doors in October, we look back at its 54 years of serving the community of Buckingham

By Hannah Richardson
Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 12:26 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 12:29 pm

There was sadness from children and parents alike when the much-loved Buckingham Pre-school Playgroup closed its doors in October.

To celebrate the group's 54 years serving the community in Buckingham, we're taking a look back at its long and happy history - with the help of former pre-school playgroup leaders Chris Wootton and Karen Clarke.

In recent years, the playgroup operated out of premises at Buckingham Cricket Club, on Bourton Road, but its story began in 1967, when a Mrs Wilby started the group at her home, Twisted Chimneys, in Church Street.

Buckingham Pre-school Playgroup Nativity in 2017

The group went on to have a succession of homes, including the cricket club, the TA cadet building on Stratford Road, the football club in Ford Street, The Cote at The Woolpack, Buckingham Youth Wing at the secondary school, Bourton Meadow School, before finally returning to the cricket club in 2005.

Chris Wootton first became involved with the group in 1979, when her own children were small, when it was based at the football club in Ford Street.

She very soon became a member of staff.

After attending a course to qualify as a pre-school leader, Chris became the group's leader in 1989.

Sports Day 2017

Chris tsid: "Buckingham Pre-school Playgroup was always keen that each child, having enjoyed a happy, supportive and encouraging start, would have the academic and, more importantly, the social skills needed to continue their education with confidence.

"It was a privilege to be able to help children, with whatever problems or difficulties they might have, to develop this confidence."

The pre-school fostered "a wonderful caring environment", said Chris, adding: "Learning was always fun - normal pre-school activities were enlivened over the years by regularly being out and about to places such as Manor Farm, the library and Bourton Park.

"We made a garden where the children grew and then prepared and ate the vegetables and fruit.

Nativity 2014

"We walked, had storytime and played games in the cricket field.

"Annual highlights were Sports Day, Christmas parties, concerts, plays and an annual outing.

"Buckingham Pre-school Playgroup was a fun and happy place to be. In all the time I worked there, the staff really enjoyed and cared about what they did."

Chris retired from the playgroup in 2010 but has kept in touch with the many good friends she made at the playgroup.

In more recent times, she said, it became increasingly hard to find qualified, experienced staff, and the last three experienced staff continued to work throughout many difficulties - including the Covid pandemic - long after they would have expected to leave.

The end for the pre-school came after its leader since 2013, Karen Clarke, needed to leave due to health problems and her deputy Caron Matanda moved to Scotland.

Karen, who led the group for 18 years said she was "devastated" the playgroup had had to close.

She told the Advertiser: "At the end of the day, it's not just a job - we were a big part of the community for a long long time and we've supported a lot of families with a lot of different things.

"It's just been sad and I feel like Buckingham's lost something really important."

"It's not overstating it to say we were a big part of the community.

"We used to have the WI come in on regular visits, and we'd have the fire engine over. We'd walk into town, we'd walk to the park in our little high-vis jackets.

"And the nativity every year, and my dad was Father Christmas. He's really missed being Father Christmas this year

"I think everyone involved with it was very proud of it."

"It should be remembered with fondness for the important role it's played in so many families' lives

"As staff, we never saw ourselves as just there for the children - we'd always look after our families. That's what we were there to do."

"It's left a hole," she admitted.

"It's sad that it's not still there but it has played a massive part in so many people's lives."

Chris Wootton added: "There are many people in Buckingham and the surrounding area who have happy memories of this long-lived and successful pre-school, and I want to thank all the wonderful staff, committees and children involved over the 54 years who made Buckingham Pre-school Playgroup what it was."