Highbridge Pre-School Playgroup

Cherry Daldry founded Highbridge pre-school in 1968, in the Methodist Chapel in Church Street Highbridge with helpers Jasmine Welch and Elaine Scadden it was subsequently taken over by Elaine in 1970, Barbara Derham had joined as an assistant. In 1975 Jasmine left to be replaced by Gill Foster, and in 1977 Barbara bought the business from Elaine, which by now was occupying the old Hauser hut at St. Johns School.

The Pre- School provided education to children from ages 3 to 5 years at a time when the education authority did not cater for this age group.  This basic education comprised, learning the school disciplines of coming to class each day, leaving mum, learning how to play and to interact with other children. Barbara always had a good working relationship with the heads of St. Johns and Beechfields schools, and they were always pleased to receive children from the group. With the Hauser hut in the school grounds and siblings in the adjoining schools it provided a smooth progression for the next step up.

On many occasions the groups’ activities went way beyond the call of duty.  For example in latter years there were several occasions when some 3 year olds and their parents arrived unable to speak a word of English. However, Barbara and her trusty band of assistants rallied round and within a year it was not unusual for the child to be interpreting for the parents. Barbara was a good team leader and natural mother; all the children loved her as she helped them take their first steps along the road to life in the big world outside of their homes.  The playgroup was of course, very much a team effort and all credit must be given to the band of loyal hard working assistants, without whom the group could not have functioned. There was mother and daughter Margie (Nannie) Fielding and Gill Foster, Rose Marsh, Sharon James, Sylvia Dyer, Helen Stephens and Jane Morris, plus many others who came and went over the years.

Of course all work and no play makes `Jack a dull boy` and many annual events took place during the school year.  In the spring there were trips to the Apex Park to plant bulbs, at Easter painting eggs and making hats. In the summer, outings to Red Road Farm, picnics on the beach, visits to Bristol Zoo during playgroup week, and an end of term sports day and party.  Then in the autumn, collecting leaves and making collages.  Christmas, of course was the `big one` with a visits from Father Christmas and Jean `Auntie Teapot` Whitehouse, a keen supporter of the playgroup. It all didn’t happen just like that of course, many hours were spent at home planning all the activities.  However, as is the case with all things these days, bureaucracy began to take its toll. Increasing mountains of paperwork and the cost of meeting new standards began to tell on the viability of the group. Furthermore with grants becoming available from Government, politics began to rear its ugly head, the schools naturally wanted to take over the running of pre-school groups. Barbara with loyal support from the faithful few fought and won a temporary reprieve to stay open for a couple more years.  Eventually fighting `The System` became too much, so she decided to retire after 21 years and a thousand children. Barbara missed the children terribly but still enjoyed meeting them and their mothers around the town, watching them grow up. One of her greatest joys was seeing children she had taught returning years later to the group with their own children. After Barb `retired in 1998 the Highbridge pre-school playgroup merged with the Humpty Dumpty group and ran on for two or three more years, before the Hauser hut was finally demolished and pre school activities for three to five year olds passed on to the State system.

Barbara had intended to write an article about the Play Group but tragically died suddenly, only five years later in 2003, aged 61 years.

(Original article supplied by Barbara’s husband Peter.)

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