IN a community routinely described as Scotland’s most deprived there has been one dependable beacon of hope.

For almost thirty years the not-for-profit organisation Childcare First has operated a nursery in Ferguslie Park, a housing estate at the north-western edge of Paisley, in Renfrewshire.

Hit hard by the closure of traditional industries such as the Linwood car plant in 1981, the community of Ferguslie Park has struggled with problems of unemployment, addiction and crime.

But despite providing a safe haven for generations of families, Hillview Nursery is now threatened with closure after the council reduced its grant funding as part of a wider restructuring of early years education.

As parents mobilise to help save the nursery, which currently caters for 36 children, one parent summed up the strength of feeling.

“Hillview is part of our lives, they’re not just a service and the idea they’re losing their jobs is absolutely horrifying to us,” he said.

“We’re a small community so we see them in the street, we meet them in the supermarket, we catch them on the buses. It’s not a case of we drop the kids off and pick them up again.

“They do more than just look after our kids, they help raise them. They have looked after me and my family for the last 10 years.”

Claire Caddis, who has two children at the nursery, said she feared she would lose her job if it closes.

“We are all very sad and extremely stressed that the nursery could be closing,” she said.

“Everyone says its easy to get another space in another nursery, but for my son its a lot harder, because he has very complex issues.

“If the nursery does close I wouldn’t be able to go to my work as people would need a lot of training before they are allowed to look after him.”

A petition to save the nursery has been launched by another parent Kayleigh Morrison, which has attracted thousands of signatures.

She said: “This nursery is so vital, not just in Ferguslie, but across Renfrewshire.

“The council do not realise the impact that it will have on the local community by closing it.”

However, the signs are the public outcry over the future of the nursery is being heard by officials from Renfrewshire Council.

Initially, the SNP-run council highlighted the fact there was sufficient capacity at nurseries elsewhere in the community for all Hillview children, meaning no child would be left without a place.

However, now the council is considering taking over the running of the nursery and will debate a motion on the issue at a council meeting later this month.

The motion, which has been backed by council leader Iain Nicolson and his depute Jim Paterson states: “Council recognises the potential impact the decision will have on the children and families presently using the service at Hillview.

“The council is committed to the continuation of service to the children and families who use Hillview Nursery and agrees to approach Childcare First to secure the transfer of the service to the council.”

Such a move would be widely welcomed, but the issues facing Hillview also have national significance because they are wrapped up in the Scottish Government’s drive to expand free nursery places.

Although the expansion is good news for parents, it poses challenges for private nurseries because the funding is channelled through councils.

Research by the National Day Nurseries Association Scotland (NDNA) shows 79 per cent of nurseries are currently making a loss on funded places.

But they also have fears that local authorities may choose to expand council-run nurseries with the additional funding rather than using private providers, even though private nurseries often offer the greater flexibility working parents need.

Neil Bibby, Labour MSP for West Scotland, said: “What we are increasingly seeing in childcare is a disconnect between the rhetoric from the Scottish Government and the actual delivery on the ground.

“These communities need investment and support, but instead we are seeing funds being taken out of the area for a unique service. Its scandalous.

“Across party lines, we are all agreed that childcare and parental choice are a priority, but warm words need to be matched by action and more importantly the funding needing to deliver on the promises made to families.”

One significant step forward is a new agreement between NDNA Scotland and council umbrella body Cosla which paves the way for a partnership approach between councils and private nurseries.

NDNA Scotland sought the agreement following concerns by its members about the lack of collaboration between state and private nurseries.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of NDNA, said: “This is a massive step for our two organisations and is really positive for families and nurseries across the country.

“There will be many providers already working with councils or keen to be involved with the expansion and now they can expect a much better working relationship with their local authority.”