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Back to work amid the cow parsley

WREN Telecottage is not a little house in which birds sit around watching Neighbours. WREN stands for Warwickshire Rural Enterprise Network and its telecottage runs computer-training courses for women-returners as well as giving local self-employed people access to computers for a fee.

Just around the corner from the all-glass, modern "cottage", tucked in among trees and tufts of cow parsley, is a real wooden cottage. And in there, up to 16 babies and toddlers do what they do in nurseries across the country, except that, being on the grounds of the National Agricultural Centre, they can go outside and say hello to cows and pigs and horses.

The WREN nursery was set up three years ago as a free child-care service for women attending the 12-week Rural Women Back to Business course, also free of charge. Matched funding for the nursery came from the European Regional Development Fund and Warwickshire education authority. The two courses that have been run so far were funded by the European Social Fund and Warwickshire Training and Enterprise Council. There are no courses running this year because of a change in funding priorities, but manager Jane Berry plans to reapply next year.

Irrespective of whether the courses run or not, the nursery is a real success. As well as providing child care for the eight women on each course who otherwise would probably not have been able to commit themselves to such an undertaking, the nursery has places open to the public.

Since it opened, it has been breaking even by charging for those places. Rates are Pounds 2.25 per hour or Pounds 16 per dayPounds 75 a week. With child-care facilities scarce in this part of rural Warwickshire - the nearest are in Coventry, about 10 miles away - the nursery has always been oversubscribed. So much so, in fact, that it has acquired an old local authority playbus from which a playscheme for 5 to 11-year-olds is run during school holidays.

Nominated for a rural development prize by the European Commission last year, WREN is one of the few telecottages in Britain to offer child care alongside training and business services. That the need and the desire for such a facility exists is beyond question. Says nursery supervisor Penny Shaw, who herself is a mother returning to work after 17 years at home: "The demand is so great, we could do with an extension."

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