Belfast nursery welcomes development of Grand Central Station and regeneration of wider area

Sharon Malcolm, manager at Puddleducks Day Nursery in Belfast city centre
Sharon Malcolm, manager at Puddleducks Day Nursery in Belfast city centre -Credit:Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live

A Belfast city centre nursery has welcomed the development of the new Grand Central Station and the wider regeneration of the city centre.

Puddleducks Day Nursery is the city centre's only nursery provider, and has been operating from Glengall Street opposite the Europa Bus Station for over a decade.

Over the pandemic, the nursery faced some challenges with the move to hybrid and remote working, but now they are adapting their business model as well as being part of the campaign to regenerate the city centre.

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The nursery, which currently has 70 children registered aged from three months to four years old, is located right beside the Grand Central Station which is due to open to the public this autumn. Work on the station remains underway, with Great Victoria Street station closing on May 10 to make preparations for the new site.

Speaking to Belfast Live, manager of Puddleducks, Sharon Malcolm, said they're happy to see regeneration taking place in the city centre, and plan to be a part of such development. The team hope the opening of the new train station will bring more people back into full-time city centre working.

Sharon said: "With Grand Central Station opening literally next door to us, we know our demand is going to increase. It's going to encourage more people to come into the city centre, and I really hope we see more and more people come back to work in Belfast full-time.

"Although there's a bit of disruption in the short term, we know that's just a short term inconvenience for a very positive long term outcome. It will really increase the footfall into the city centre, helping to develop the city even further, encouraging more people to come into town.

Sharon Malcolm from Puddleducks Day Nursery
Sharon Malcolm from Puddleducks Day Nursery speaking to Belfast Live -Credit:Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live

"With that, and with us being so close and so handy for parents, they see us not only as a convenient early years setting for them, but that they see us as a high quality early years care and education environment for their child to attend while they're in work where their child can grow, learn and thrive and maximise their full potential.

"It gives a lot of parents peace of mind that while they're working in the city centre, their pride and joy is just a few minutes walk away."

Another development in the city centre has been the increase in people living in the city or moving nearby, and with new apartment blocks and residential developments nearby springing up, Sharon hopes to see this development continue.

She said: "I think back to when we initially opened and we had parents coming from right across Northern Ireland that were working in the city centre. But more and more now we're seeing people that actually live and work in the city centre.

"So not only is it somewhere for the child to be cared more close to where they work, it's close to where they live as well. So it's a win win for parents."

Puddleducks Day Nursery in Belfast city centre
Puddleducks Day Nursery in Belfast city centre -Credit:Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland without a childcare strategy in place. On April 20, a march organised by group Melted Parents NI took place in Belfast, with parents calling for changes to the childcare system here, which they said can cost £15,000 per year for just one child on average.

On April 25 when the Stormont budget was announced, and First Minister Michelle O’Neill said funding from this would be made available for a childcare strategy in Northern Ireland.

Sharon said: “We welcome that £25m has been allocated for a childcare strategy in the agreed Stormont Budget.

“A new childcare strategy for Northern Ireland has been badly needed for a long time now, in order to alleviate some of the pressures facing parents and also to give some clarity for providers such as ourselves going forward. We are eager to see further details from the Education Minister on this in the coming weeks.

"I've worked in early years for a very long time, and I think the challenges we're facing at the moment are unprecedented and really our own source of our only source of income is through the fees that parents pay.

"Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK and Ireland that doesn't have a childcare strategy in place. A childcare strategy will help support our parents first and foremost by helping them with the fees that they have to pay.

Sharon Malcolm, manager of Puddleducks Day Nursery in Belfast city centre
Sharon Malcolm, manager of Puddleducks Day Nursery in Belfast city centre -Credit:Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live

"It will also support providers, allowing us to be able to reduce the cost of childcare and early years. It's not just pumping money into nothing, it's an investment that should be taken very seriously."

Looking to the future for their city centre premises, Sharon said Puddleducks would be keen to work with surrounding businesses in the city centre, and that they're hoping to upgrade their outdoors play area.

She said: "Due to our location, there are a lot of opportunities within our premises. We are happy to explore future development and would embrace any opportunity to provide high-quality care for children.

"When prospective parents come in to have a look around and I take them outside they always say they weren't expecting to see the outdoor play area in the city centre. So what we have is good, but we know it can be It can be better and that is the sort of the approach to everything that we do here. We're constantly reflecting on our practice.

"Our approach to care is not stand still. It's always developing and based on what we know, and we always say, the more we know, the better we can be."

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