A POPULAR playgroup is being forced to close after 34 years due to a lack of sustainable funding.

Woodhouse Close Playgroup, in Bishop Auckland, has seen scores of two and three-year-olds pass through its doors to learn and play over the years.

However, leader Cynthia Hall has been left with no other option than to make four members of staff and herself redundant and not reopen in September.

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She said: “The playgroup will be sadly missed by the community and church outreach in this deprived area of Bishop Auckland.

“Although the numbers attending have always been good, and would be next term in September, salaries and running costs have been unsustainable.

“Funding for this age group in the voluntary sector has been very difficult to secure despite government policy changes to fund two-year-old places in nursery.

“Parents pay fees but we don’t charge them a great deal because of where we are. A lot of parents can’t afford private child care.”

Mrs Hall has submitted numerous funding applications, but she said each one has proved unsuccessful.

She said parents received a letter last week to explain about the closure and since then could not have been more supportive.

She added: “The funds are running out and we have had to make a decision, which is to close at the end of this week.

“The parents have clearly been thinking about it over the weekend because we have had them coming in offering to raise money for us and give us ideas about where to find more funding.

“Unfortunately, it is not going to help because we need sustainable funding. The parents are devastated by the news.

“We have 20 children on the register and even now parents are coming in trying to get names on the list for next term. I could understand if we had to close because of low numbers but that is not the case.

“I am devastated. I am trying not to think about what is happening too much. I don’t think I have accepted it yet. I keep hoping something might happen.”

The children will have their end of term party as usual, but Mrs Hall said it is unlikely they will hold an event to mark the closing of the playgroup.