Dozens of playcentres in South on chopping block

Balclutha Playcentre members Miriam and Hannah (3) Broekhuizen (left), and Alice and Sam (3) Reid...
Balclutha Playcentre members Miriam and Hannah (3) Broekhuizen (left), and Alice and Sam (3) Reid are concerned as many as 100 smaller rural playcentres like theirs may be forced to close. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
Parents say dozens of rural communities throughout the South could "have their hearts ripped out" because of chronic government underfunding of an early childhood education (ECE) provider.

Balclutha Playcentre president and parent Alice Reid said yesterday her 25-member centre could be one of five threatened with closure in South Otago alone, due to long-term underfunding of parent organisation Playcentre Aotearoa.

She said most of the district’s centres — also in Owaka, Clinton, Clydevale and Tapanui — had been running for more than 50 years.

"For many rural communities, the playcentre is the local hub for parents and families. If you take those away, you rip the heart out of the community, and once they’re gone, they’re gone."

Playcentre Southern regional manager Antoinette McLean confirmed the organisation was looking at closing as many as 100 of its least viable centres, most of which would be rural because of their naturally smaller catchments and member numbers.

Playcentre Aotearoa operates about 420 centres nationwide, of which about a third are rural.

In the Southern region, half of the centres (23 of 46) were rural, she said.

Although the Government had announced a further $280million for the ECE sector in its recent Budget, the money would go only to teacher-led services, not predominantly volunteer-led facilities like Playcentre.

"Playcentre educates 7% of all preschoolers, yet we received less than 1% of government funding.

"We have 420 centres dotted around NZ, a third of them rural. Playcentre is not just another early childhood service, but one playing an enormous role in the lives of tamariki, whanau and communities, where it is often the hub."

As some centres were teacher-led, under the recent announcement Playcentre would receive another $3.1million over four years.

However, that brought average Playcentre funding per child to just over $750 a year, or 10.8% of average non-Playcentre funding.

That was barely enough to pay for "consumables", let alone overheads including "eye-watering" property maintenance costs, Mrs McLean said.

"Playcentre has been around for 80 years, empowering parents at the heart of their communities.

"We just want fair funding that allows us to become sustainable."

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