A PROJECT to build a state-of-the-art home for Britain’s oldest independent playgroup has taken a “huge step forward” after city finance chiefs approved a new 80-year lease.
Playleaders at Portobello Toddler Hut, established in 1929, hailed the move and said they would push forward with a fundraising drive for around £250,000 needed to build 21st century premises for its “rotting” home in Beach Lane.
They said confirmation of a long-term lease – for which the group will pay a peppercorn annual rent of £1 – would help win investment from public funding bodies and charities.
Karen Wilson, playleader, said: “The hut is more or less rotting to pieces. We really need a new building and this new lease is a huge step forward for us.”
The Toddler Hut’s current premises on Porty prom – occupied since 1931 – accommodate around 50 children aged between two-and-a-half and five years old each year.
Ms Wilson confirmed the group was in dire need of a new base and said council utilities staff had told her the current building had the worst energy efficiency ratings they had seen.
Plans to erect a replacement Toddler Hut were revealed by the Evening News early last year.
Ms Wilson said: “We’re in a very shabby building – literally a wooden hut – and it’s not fit for purpose any more.
“We are very pleased that the lease has been approved in principle – and we appreciate that the council has taken such a positive attitude.
“But we’ll need quite a bit of funding, so we’ll be sending out lots of applications.
“We’ll need around £250,000 to build it and we’re aiming to raise about 10 per cent of that ourselves, with the rest hopefully coming from funding applications.
“We still have some way to go before we reach our target.”
Directors at award-winning Dalmeny Street-based architects practice Konishi Gaffney, which has drawn up designs for the new Hut, said they wanted to create a “fun” building from which children would be able to look out over the beach wall and see the sea.
Architect Kieran Gaffney, whose son went to playgroup at the Toddler Hut, said: “When designing this, we were playing with the image of beach huts – timber huts on the beach.
“But we wanted to get the kids up to the building’s first floor where they can see the view. The children at the Hut are so small that normally they wouldn’t be able to see over the beach wall.”
He added: “Building this replacement is a good cause – the Hut is not-for-profit and community-run. It’s not like a normal commercial nursery.”
Council chiefs confirmed they were fully behind the Toddler Hut project and said they would do all they could to help playgroup leaders win financial backing.
Councillor Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance leader, said: “We are keen to work with Portobello Toddler Hut to ensure that the mechanism for obtaining grant funding is unlocked.”