ON a recent weekday morning, children at Múin Crèche in Blackpool were learning about places bigger than Cork city.
Marissa Buckley, the pre-school’s manager, was holding a large map in her hands, telling her young, curious audience about the North Pole, which they instantly recognised as Santa’s home.
Recently, maps and places have gained a special significance for the staff at Múin, for altogether different reasons, as proposals for the demolition of the popular pre-school have been drawn up.
The state of uncertainty began on a wintry morning two months ago, when drilling noises disrupted the classes.
“We just heard drilling in the wall. So, the kids were like, ‘What’s going on?’, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, there are builders, that’s fine’,” Marissa recalls.
“So, I went outside at noon, and then we saw the notice, and it just said ‘proposed demolition of existing structure and proposed development for 42 apartments’.”
The word existing structure, Marissa says, caused her to presume that the sign was referring to idle, dilapidated buildings nearby.
“I didn’t realise that it was actually us, but I’m very naive,” she says.
“We have a lease here for another four or five years, so we were shocked, like it’s not even at the end of our lease or anything.”
Compass Homes Ltd are the developers behind a planning application submitted to Cork City Council for building an apartment block where the pre-school currently stands.
Two Cork-based construction firms which own the site have signed consent forms, allowing Compass Homes to apply for planning permission, according to documents submitted to the Council. Neither construction company responded to a request for a comment.
Múin serves 18 young children, including two who are on the autism spectrum and six others with special emotional needs.
Located at the end of Brockelsby Street, the building serves as a crèche by day, and turns into Super Stars Sance and Stage school in the evenings, teaching ballet, acting and gymnastics to Northside teens.
In a statement to The Echo, Compass Homes Ltd described the proposed project as essential for alleviating the ongoing housing crisis.
“It should be noted that there will be a substantial element of social housing provided for in the planning application and that the scheme in time may be devoted entirely to social housing should the need arise,” its statement read.
Adding that Compass Homes has “no intention to rush this process”, the company believed that the owners of the property had discussed their plans with the tenant “prior to entering into an arrangement” with the company.
Kate Gaffney, who runs both Múin Crèche and Super Stars Stage School and rents the property from its original owners, refutes that claim.
Kate says she is well aware of the persistent housing issue “but we also have a childcare crisis”.
“What they are doing is that they are replacing one crisis with another crisis,” she says.
Last year, several crèche owners warned that crisis was looming for the sector. From a surge in insurance costs to a dearth of providers, the childcare sector is facing a set of challenges that are leading to the demise of some of its vital services.
“Losing this service would be detrimental to the young people of the area, not only is Super Stars servicing Blackpool, it’s servicing the whole of the northside,” she says.
In planning documents submitted to the Council, Compass Homes stated that there are other childcare facilities in the area, namely Naíonra na mBachlóg. However, Marissa says: “That pre-school is situated at the Farranferris area, not Blackpool.”
She says some of their children with additional needs cannot travel to Farranferris.
“It’s convenient, you know,” she says of her creche location.
Staff at Múin say it would be much harder to relocate to another space, yet that many vacant buildings in Blackpool could be used for housing projects.
Marissa points to the building’s large rooms, its gymnasium, its garden, and its walls decorated with huge mirrors that autistic students especially enjoy, as things that make Múin an irreplaceable space.
“Many of our children live in apartment blocks or shared housing. They have no access to front gardens, there is no park in Blackpool,” she says.
“If we could take this building and drop it somewhere, then I would say maybe we could relocate.”
Lisa Walsh, a teacher at Múin, whose daughter also studies at the pre-school, says she fears losing her job.
“I’m losing a lot if this goes, I’m losing my job, I’m losing the school for my child,” she says.
“It is very hard to find a pre-school that is suitable to your child’s needs. My daughter loves coming here. It’s been very beneficial for her confidence.”