The 30 -year history and success of the Ilen River Playschool

July 16th, 2021 7:05 AM

Pat is retiring after starting and running the Ilen River Playschool for over 30 years.

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My name is Patricia Baddiley Hughes, known in Skibbereen as Pat Hughes.  I run the Ilen River Playschool in Skibbereen which started in a building in the playground, and then moved to the Abbeystrewry church hall in the centre of Skibbereen.

I have always wanted to work with children and knew this when I was still at school. I am from England and firstly got NNEB (nursery nurse and education board) qualifications at a nursery training college in London, then did primary education teacher training getting a BA (hons) degree. I worked in various day nurseries and primary schools in London before I moved to Ireland.

When I came to Ireland, I firstly started up and ran the play school in Ballydehob, which at that time was in the kitchen of the community hall. Then I helped local parents establish the playschool in Caheragh, which was also in the community hall there. Both have now grown into full day care nurseries.  I then moved to Skibbereen and opened the Ilen River Playschool.

I was very involved with the Cork county childcare committee and was secretary and chairperson over the years. We had regular meetings and leaders of the West Cork playschools, met and exchanged ideas, and held workshops for each other in their various strengths. It was a voluntary committee at the time and a very social group which was important in giving each other encouragement. The committee is now taken over by the government and is mainly involved with bureaucracy and training.

The Ilen River Playschool opened in 1991and I ran it on my own and advertised for students who wanted to get practical experience.  I had many of them helping in the early years and I trained them, gave them a certificate of attendance and references which helped them get other jobs in childcare or go onto different courses to further their careers.

There were only two other playschools in Skibbereen at the time, one in a small room in the art centre and one in a private house’s garage. Playschools were a new concept then as most families had one working parent or they depended on grandparents. 

Gradually, as people heard of the playschool, more children were enrolled.  I put up an exhibition of their art work in the corridor from the car park in Fields supermarket each year which was good advertising as well as exciting for the children.  I also ran summer camps, when there were no other camps for very young children. These were very well attended. I later did after school art and pottery classes for primary school children.

There was a big flood one year which came into the playground and 2ft up the walls of the playschool.  A lot of the equipment was ruined and though I claimed insurance, it was a depressing time.

I had another shock one year in that after six years in the playground building,  it was to be sold and I had to move out. I was told in August, and was full for the coming September, with no premises. I heard about a room upstairs in the Abbeystrewry Hall which I could use. At the time it had a horrible brown carpet, filing cabinets, a piano in the corner and was too small, but I had no choice if I wanted to open in September, so I took it thinking I would find somewhere more suitable the following year. Since then, I have two adjoining rooms upstairs which are now purpose made into the playschool and are practical, bright, and spacious. It also has the advantages of the big walled garden, a large hall for wet weather active play and the car park right next to it, for safe drop off and pick up. So it was not such a disaster after all!

I think the secret of my success has been that I have never looked at the playschool as a job. It is my passion and I have worked very hard to make it exciting and educational for the children. I spend a lot of time planning projects and activities, choosing and buying the best equipment and books. I try to make it the best I can make it and feel honoured and delighted that parents are happy to let me look after their precious babies who in most cases have never left their side before. I also love small children. This may sound an obvious trait, but over the years, I have had childcare students who obviously don’t, and have no patience with them.

More families have both parents working now and the advantage to them is that they know that while they work, their child is learning, socialising and having fun. The community as a whole benefits as the children are better socialised and prepared for the next step of school. They are taken on outings within the community such as to the supermarket, to look at, name and find out about vegetables; to the Dynasty Chinese restaurant, for Chinese new year; to the Cré pottery and the Treehouse. They participate in the St Patricks day parade and put on a Nativity play at Christmas for family and friends.  They also learn about people who help us by having visits from a garda, fireman, nurse, and dentist.

In a small town like Skibbereen, word got round that the Ilen River playschool was good and my reputation grew until I had a two-year waiting list and was having to turn people away. However there are now six playschools in Skibbereen and places are more readily available.

Hard work, dedication, and good choice in staff were key to my success.  Judith Foley worked with me for 16 years. We worked very well together and she is excellent with the children. Cora O’Donaghue then joined us, and settled very naturally into our way of teaching and caring for the children. The playschool is secure and consistent for the children.

There is always room for improvement and I am learning all the time. There is much more paper work now which is not my favourite side of things, but I’m learning to handle it.  I took courses online and locally and recently did a speech therapy and a special needs course.

If you want to achieve success in your chosen business, train in the right area, talk to people about local needs for your business, and go for it. You have to believe in what you do and enjoy your work. Expect it to take up most of your waking days, and have confidence that you can achieve your goals.

I am retiring at the end of 2021, after 30 very happy years running my Ilen River playschool in Skibbereen. I am delighted that Cora O’Donaghue is taking over running things, with Majella Cahalane as her assistant. Both were chosen not just for their level of qualifications, but for their ability, energy, enthusiasm, patience and most importantly, their love of working with small children.

So the Ilen River Playschool will continue for maybe even another 30 years! 

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