The Isle of Lewis will lose willing workers, especially from the health service, if childcare provider An Cotan is allowed to close as planned.
And parents are today warning that the closure of the centre could mean not just working parents staying at home, but families leaving the islands and children who might not be born.
One said: "My heart breaks for the staff in An Cotan. Each and every one of them are absolutely amazing, taking such good care of our children and everybody knows that none of this is their fault."
The drastic implications for the island’s future population, and current workforce, are outlined over and over again by individual parents, now making their decisions on how to plan their lives without childcare.
Yesterday (Thursday 2 March) the principal and chief executive of UHI Outer Hebrides announced a plan to consult on closure of An Cotan, citing staff shortages and costs as the main reasons.
But parents have today told welovestornoway.com that they don’t believe the consultation will have any impact on the decision to close, which they see as ‘a done deal.’
Laura Mackay, a nurse in the high dependency unit at Western Isles Hospital awaiting her return to work after maternity leave, said she didn’t believe there was a chance that the nursery would stay open.
She said: “I think it’s a foregone conclusion that it will close. If they had something in their back pocket which meant that it could stay open, they would not have told parents now.”
Laura is on the waiting list for a place for her one-year-old child, and has been waiting for eight months to return to work when a place becomes available.
She said: “My situation is not as grim as others. I will have family support for my child for two days a week and am waiting for just one day so that I can return to work for enough hours.
“It makes a huge difference to the NHS in the Western Isles if I am not available, and it also makes a difference to our own plans for having a family.
“We were planning to have our children close together, but if I can’t return to work now we won’t be able to afford to have a second child until our first begins school.
“We moved back home from Glasgow to have a family here and now all these things are being taken away, changing our plans. I don’t regret moving home, but it’s just sad.”
Laura’s is not the only family in the highly sought-after ‘return to the island’ category to be affected by the nursery plans. Welovestornoway.com was contacted by a midwife currently fighting to keep her nursing registration live, so that she can work after having her child.
She said: “I know someone who has moved home to have a family and who is now considering leaving the island because she is not confident about the services to support her.
“There’s this big pressure for people to return from the mainland, to move up here, but how can you do that if they can’t get childcare?
“I was working full-time before I had my child and was intending to drop to three days to return to work with nursery care.
“We were on the waiting list but never heard anything, and then I just heard from other parents about the proposal to close An Cotan. I hope they reassess.
“If I can’t go back to work and lose my registration it would mean I have to re-register and wouldn’t be available to work for anything between three and 12 months while I wait for that to come through.
“My father-in-law has offered to drop a day of work so that he can help and one childminder has offered me three hours, but childminders are so much in demand and there’s just so much uncertainty, which makes it really hard for me to go back to work.
“And if I can’t go back to work we would have to consider whether we can have more children now, because my maternity leave pay for a second child would drop, so we wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
As well as losing qualified staff who are unable to return to work, the health service in the islands is in danger of losing new entrants to healthcare, who can’t complete their studies.
Heather Montgomery said: “I'm currently a second-year student nurse studying at the UHI Western Isles campus.
“Like other degree students, I have to prepare for exams, assignments and full-time placements with 13 hour day/night shift patterns. I did the majority of this throughout my pregnancy in first year.
“After I had my daughter, I took just under a year out, enrolled her into nursery and went straight back to my course, which wasn't easy and still is a huge, exhausting challenge, but I knew it'd all be worth it in the end.
“I've worked so, so hard to get to where I am now and I really love what I do, but juggling all of this is just impossible without childcare.
“The end is truly in sight, and if all goes well I should graduate next year, but at the moment I'm so worried that's not going to happen – through no fault of my own.
“The other day, I received a letter from the UHI stating that they face closing down An Cotan nursery in just eight weeks’ time.
“I really can't imagine packing everything in now and being left with nothing but wasted hard work over the past couple of years.
“Parents of young families on the island are being left without childcare, preventing them from working and having a direct knock-on effect on businesses, healthcare and more. This is a serious issue that needs to be promptly addressed.”
Parents are unanimous in their support for the staff at An Cotan, but believe that authorities including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and NHS Western Isles need to work with UHI Outer Hebrides to find a solution.
Heather said: “My heart breaks for the staff in An Cotan. Each and every one of them are absolutely amazing, taking such good care of our children and everybody knows that none of this is their fault.
“This nursery is the only service providing for under-3s, other than Stornoway Childcare Centre, who are at full capacity. It's really important that something is done to keep it up and running.”
Picture shows the opening of An Cotan in February 2014 and is by Malcolm Macleod photography for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.