Over the last few years Chirpy Chicks has gone from almost closing, to a completely new pre-school with new equipment refreshing in some cases its decades old items, a more inclusive setting accepting over a dozen children with additional needs and getting them ready and supported at school, and for the first time in its 30 year history winning an award for Best Playgroup for the Health and Well-Being of the children in our care. Our smiling happy children you’ll see having adventures on Facebook every week are testament to the bright future we’re building towards as is them shouting the “We love Chirpys” song we know you’ve all heard time and again.

So what’s next to keep Chirpy’s flying high. The pre-school sector is chronically underfunded throughout the UK, see this BBC report on the matter ‘Nurseries in deprived areas face closure over funding gap’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-48558495’ This is for rural and inner city areas in England but in Northern Ireland it’s actually worse as we are funded 33% less than the mainland and they are struggling. You may have seen an article in the Newtownards Chronicle a while ago about three playgroups in the local area that were facing closure due to financial pressures.

Chirpys has built a good reputation in recent times, renewed links to Peninsula primary schools and beyond with the happy and thriving children being our best showcase for the work we do. We firmly believe that despite the difficulties mentioned pre-school for children is so important for their well-being, the educational science bears this out, and the vital support we can give to our own excellent local Greyabbey Primary School feeding into P1 has us striving to keep that drive moving forward to keep improving the opportunities for local families.

With that we are engaged in a project with a new organisation called ‘Pioneering Parenting’ to hopefully take the next step for Chirpy Chicks and give even greater opportunities for local children of all ages to improve their well-being.

Pioneering Parenting is a new charity being set up that will seek to offer innovative support to new parents and families through the provision of health awareness courses, with a focus on mental health, and providing avenues for education in rural areas for parents seeking to retrain to new careers after focusing on raising their family. It seeks to be a key part of the Public Health Agency  plans for Social Prescribing, where a doctor can direct patients to social activities rather than medication to help with depression or isolation. By providing everything from organised community gardening projects, to Tai-Chi, to Boccia, Men’s Sheds, and focused women’s health initiatives the organisation will assist doctors and other community organisations it will work in partnership with to improve the lives of people in rural areas.

Pioneering Parenting is currently undertaking consultations with community groups and a technical planning study to build a new modern modular classroom in Greyabbey to facilitate the education and health courses it will be bringing to the whole Peninsula. With Greyabbey a gateway to the Peninsula the village is perfectly placed and could benefit in a number of other ways. If the study goes well it will be applying for funding, fingers crossed to do a number of things that have been an aspiration for the village for a number of years.

First up is the building itself an initial but not finalised design of which is below. We know from speaking to parents both current and those formerly attending Chirpy Chicks that there has always been a desire for a dedicated space for the pre-school, and most importantly an outdoor space for the children to enjoy the sunshine, when we have some, in a safe contained environment full of exciting activities to do. We know there had been fundraising several years ago for this to happen but for reasons unknown before our time it never materialised. This new project however may give Chirpys a brand new dedicated home to serve the needs of the children in our care of which our numbers are at their highest ever, and that all important outdoor space that everyone has always wanted.

Just as important however is the added benefit for the village children of all ages as a whole, as that’s what’s we’re all about, seeking the best for our local children, even when they aren’t Chirpy Chicks anymore and are just high-fiving us when they see us in P1, P2, P3 and so on.

The project if it can navigate the technical details and make a successful funding round is proposing to offer the community the choice of a brand new public space for sporting and health activities open to all. 

In 2015 Councillor Robert Adair had been approached by local families seeking an improvement to the tennis courts area, similar to improvements other Peninsula villages had received but Greyabbey had been overlooked, and as always Councillor Adair has worked diligently to find a way to make it happen.

He’d posted about it on Facebook here. https://m.facebook.com/story/graphql_permalink/?graphql_id=UzpfSTExMTczODEwMDg6MTAyMDU4OTQwMTkyODU3NzE%3D 

Specifically villagers were hopeful of a MUGA (Multi-Use Games Area) a space that encompasses football, tennis, basketball and more on the site of the tennis courts, and that is the hope of this partnership project as well.

This revitalised space that the community will be voting on soon for their choice of design, if everything can get moving, would be a huge improvement for the village in line with existing public expressions of interest. At the minute the working plans for the space simply state a new tennis facility as the technical details of planning are worked through and adjusted. However on offer to the community via a consultation in late June will be one of the following:

  1. The Tennis Courts as they are now but with new fencing and a new surface.
  2. A single professional doubles tennis court, the best in the Peninsula, with spectator seating.
  3. A new resurfaced tennis court alongside an FA regulation mini-soccer artificial pitch in the current space for children and young people to enjoy football and being outdoors all year round.
  4. A Multi-Use Games Area that encompasses football, tennis and open air basketball all in one space making for a premiere place for children and young people, and adults if they’re feeling up to it to enjoy. 

All of these potential improvements would of course be open to the public all year round and with added disabled access currently missing from the tennis courts as they are now.

This would, after requests dating back to 2015 and beyond, give Greyabbey some of the best facilities that we can enjoy and build upon for the future. These facilities would be provided in partnership with Ards & North Down Borough Council as they own the land currently, open to the public just as they are now, not privately owned, and there are also plans for public toilets adjacent to whatever facility is settled upon to allow people to make better use of the space and perhaps encourage more use of the green area behind the Village Hall for boot sales, summer fetes, and anything anyone can come up with that could benefit from the improved public facilities that currently don’t exist.

The partnership is also in discussions with the Village Hall to hopefully join the project to allow for health and education courses needing the hall’s big space to run, and perhaps also seek to complete renovation works to the Hall to bring to fruition its own plans to extend and provide more services to help ensure it’s sustainable for future generations. It would be great to see the kids at Chirpy Chicks today be able to celebrate the centenary of the Hall in 2051 with fond memories of their time both in it and reminiscing about the summers they spent in whatever improved facility is nearby.

Investing in better public facilities for the children is always a worthwhile cause, our children after all are the bedrock of the community for the future and hopefully if the project makes it through the various hurdles it faces, and receives public support for a new much needed and wanted upgraded tennis courts, or mini-soccer, or multi-use games area open for all to enjoy we can gift them a brighter future. 

As more details become available we’ll keep everyone posted via our online services and we know Pioneering Parenting will be opening its own public consultation process shortly at www.pioneeringparenting.com Unfortunately as with all these large scale funding projects, be they Lottery based or via funds like the Rural Development Programme which is sadly now closing due to Brexit, it’s a bit cart before the horse and you have to investigate the technical details first to see if you can offer people something to invest in, rather than putting out grand plans and disappointing everyone down the line, a bit like what happened with the outdoor play space fundraisers from a few years ago. You also don’t want people adding their own ‘alternative facts’ to the idea and everything gets mis-understood until you have a chance to lay everything out.

We hope you can see an exciting possible future and you’ll join us in helping to build something fantastic for the children and the whole village to celebrate for years to come.