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Fortune favours one-stop nursery

Parents bringing their children to Islington's Fortune Park early-years centre say they wish others could benefit from its work.

The centre, near London's Barbican centre, caters for children from a few months old until they leave for primary school - and is very much the type of nursery David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, would like to see springing up across Britain.

It caters for 65 children from all social backgrounds; from the children of students and unemployed people to youngsters whose parents work in the City.

Most children stay from 9.30am to 3.30pm, although the centre is open from 7.45am until 5.30pm for people who work full-time.

Youngsters with special educational needs are catered for too, creating a real "one-stop-shop" for parents.

Fees are means-tested with free child care and nursery schooling for those on income support. The centre costs the north London council just over Pounds 310,000 a year to run. Fees bring in Pounds 105,000. The nursery's charges for three-year-olds staying for a 9.30am to 3.30pm day start at Pounds 8.25 a week for a family earning under Pounds 13,000 a year and rise to Pounds 28.50 a week for people earning between Pounds 25,000 and Pounds 28,000. Families on more than Pounds 35,000 pay Pounds 49.75 a week.

There are extra charges for early morning, late afternoon sessions, and babies and toddlers cost considerably more.

Most parents are happy to pay the rates - even the top charge is below the cost of a private nursery - and the 15-month-old centre is over-subscribed. Parents praise the Fortune Park's ability to take children of all ages, and the range of support it offers.

Paola Stella sends two of her children to the centre and works part-time at her husband's restaurant. She agrees that places like it will help people get back to work.

"I would not be able to work without it," she said. "At the end of the day there are very few places that accept all ages of children."

Julianne Baker has been bringing her son Sean, aged four, to the centre for a year. She said: "When he was a bit younger he had some language problems and they have really helped here. This is a really good idea, keeping the different age groups together."

Caren Rudge, the head of the centre, said the combination of child care and nursery education worked well, although it was necessary to achieve a balance.

"Islington is trying to meet the needs of parents, although obviously we also meet the needs of the children," she said.

"Some of them are here from 7.45am to 5.30pm, 49 weeks a year. That's a long time to be in an institution, but a lot of them thrive on it.

"Everybody is incredibly supportive about the integration of children with special needs and the parents are very supportive of each other whatever their circumstances."

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