‘Last affordable nursery’ forced to leave by church landlords

'I was in shock and couldn't believe it,' says manager after space is offered to private school

Thursday, 5th May — By Harry Taylor

Activity Nursery protest

Protesters at the church last night (Wednesday)

A NURSERY considered one of the most affordable in Hampstead is being forced to leave its home after its church landlords handed the space to a private school.

Hampstead Activity Nursery has been based in Christ Church for more than two decades, but got a shock in March when a parent learned that Heathside Prep School would be moving in.

The first nursery managers and staff learned that they would be forced out was when the news appeared in Heathside’s newsletter and followed a year of trying to extend the lease.

Maria Avanzato, the nursery manager, said: “In my head I was thinking this can’t be for real. I was upset, I was in shock and couldn’t believe it. It just couldn’t be true.”

She added: “The church gave us a contract in January. I can’t believe they didn’t ring us out of a matter of courtesy. It’s upsetting because we could lose our jobs. I don’t want to leave, I love the kids and love the parents. The nursery is like home to me. We are trying to fight to keep it and we are going to fight as long and as hard as we can to keep it open.”

The nursery – the only one in Hampstead that accepts babies as well as toddlers – had been negotiating over a new lease and tried to open talks after being hit with a rent increase and a no-notice eviction clause.

“We couldn’t work with having a break clause like that, it’s not how we operate in this business,” said Ms Avanzato. In response, the spokesperson for the church said that it had offered “reasonable terms” to the nursery, but it was “rejected by the owner”.

The church claims it told the nursery’s owner in January about the decision, but they denied this. Church leaders took offence over a banner put up to “save Hampstead Activity Nursery”. It was then taken down by a member of the church.

This was reported to police, with the banner returned a week later. A replacement was bought and is now chained to the fence and taken down at night.

Emails seen by the New Journal show that the church has considered legal action to try and get it removed. Staff and parents will hold a protest on Sunday morning, where they will walk up Hampstead High Street after meeting outside Barclays bank at 10.30am.

They will finish outside the church in Hampstead Square.

Anna Fleischmann, whose daughter Charlotte attends the nursery, said: “It is the last place that’s affordable in Hampstead. It is the only place that’s open to everyone.” Heathside School is now run by Duke’s Education after it bought the school from administrators in 2019.

The school, spread out over several sites, had faced a turbulent few years, including an Ofsted inspection the year before that found it “disorganised and unsafe”.

It went bust in July 2019 owing £2million to families. The new owners are not connected to the old management and that period in the school’s history.

A spokesperson for Heathside School said: “[We have] acted in good faith regarding the space at Christ Church knowing that the space would be empty and that notice had been given to the previous leaseholders. Heathside has played no part in the discussions between the church and the Activity Nursery.”

A spokesperson for Christ Church Hampstead said: “Heathside were identified as a potential new tenant when PCC members considered them a suitable candidate for using part of the church premises given their connection with the area and because the premises could continue to be used for the educational benefit of children.

“As such, the PCC approached them to explore a potential partnership. We found the team sincere and helpful throughout the process and believe that Heathside, under its new management, has become a friendly and responsible member of the Hampstead community. We stand ready to support the Activity Nursery over the remaining period of their tenancy and wish them well in future.”

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