New beginnings for Shoalhaven's first preschool
Shoalhaven Community Preschool is opening its doors to celebrate its new and expanded centre. Rebecca Davis reports.
15 September 2023
Like many Nowra residents, Kate Morris has a special and longstanding connection to Shoalhaven Community Preschool.
Three generations of her family have been enrolled at the service she now leads as Director.
“I attended there myself, so did all three of my children and now my grandson,” she said.
Ms Morris was full of mixed emotions when it came time to farewell many years of memories at the Shoalhaven Street site to make way for the Shoalhaven Hospital expansion.
“I’m obviously sad, there’s a lot of history there but I saw it as an opportunity to grow the service and move to a new contemporary, purpose-built building,” she said.
It marks the second time the much-loved service has relocated.
The community preschool started out as a playgroup at the Diggers Hall on Junction Street.
The RSL club donated the building in 1958 and a team of volunteers helped move it on the back of a truck to Shoalhaven Street beside the hospital – where it remained Shoalhaven’s only preschool until the 1970s.
“We couldn’t take it this time, the building had reached its expiration date and wouldn’t make the journey,” Ms Morris said.
A fond farewell
As demolition day approached, generations of little learners returned as adults to say goodbye alongside former and current staff.
Each made their mark on the walls, leaving a touching message to honour the building that holds a special place in their hearts.
“I met my best friend here,” wrote one person.
“The place where you always feel safe and happy. We will love this place forever,” another added.
Ms Morris even reunited with her old Preschool Director from 1983.
“It was nice, everyone stood around, shared memories, shed a tear, had a laugh,” she said.
“So much life unfolded in that building ... births, deaths, marriages,”
“They think back to that time when they were at preschool and supported.”
A shared journey
Ms Morris said while the transition to nearby North Street was an exciting time, she also recognised change could be difficult.
“There can be a sense of grief or loss and I had to be sensitive and mindful of that,” she said.
Staff and children were invited to tour the new building as it was being constructed.
“So they felt a sense of ownership over it,” Ms Morris said.
She also grew her team before the move, with the new expanded building accommodating an additional 20 preschool places each day.
“It’s a big deal for the community,” she said.
Staff helped design the purpose-built centre, which benefited from funding through the Department of Education’s Start Strong capital works program.
It includes three large rooms with book nooks, craft prep areas and retreat spaces for children with additional and sensory needs.
“A meeting room was an important inclusion in the design as we have a lot of therapists and allied health professionals visit the service. Also, for meetings with parents,” Ms Morris said.
There is a dedicated space for educators to take time off the floor and prepare their programs.
One Ms Morris’ favourite features is a beautiful timber deck off the staff room.
“Staff wellbeing is a core value of our philosophy and a key priority, Ms Morris said.
For the children, it’s the revamped outdoor area - which includes a large sandpit, mud kitchen and dry creek bed - that matters most.
“Everyone loves it, the most common thing I have heard is we are sad about the old preschool, but this is amazing,” Ms Morris said.
Ms Morris and her staff have kept some mementos from the former preschool, which they have incorporated into the new centre.
“We repurposed a lot of things, including some timber,” she said.
“We removed murals and brought them with us, as well as old sandstone boulders and river stones.”
This weekend, Ms Morris and her team will open their doors to the community to say thank you for all the support they received during the relocation.
The community open day kicks off at 10am on Saturday 16 September at their new home on North Street.