It's not really a pre-fab hut ...

26th June 1998 at 01:00
TAKE ONE vote-winning pre-election promise to provide free nursery places for every four-year-old in England and Wales. Add a welfare-to-work programme that trains 50,000 young people as child carers. Throw in a dash of single mothers - put them back to work - and you have the recipe for the Government's national childcare strategy.

Pity there is just one teeny ingredient missing. Just where are all the children going to go? Portakabins, of course.

But this is not a Portakabin as you know it. It seems that the familiar grey cube has undergone a transformation worthy of New Labour.

The company's latest unveiling, the Lilliput nursery, is apparently more a "brightly coloured collection of little boxes". It has been designed by trendy London architects Cottrell and Vermeulen, with furnishings by Rosalind Farley, a hip interior designer usually found in the pages of Elle magazine.

For less than the price of half a playground wall you get an outside play area, wet area, veranda and fittings - including toddler-sized showers and heated benches.

"We are the most trusted name in modular building systems you know," enthuses Robert Minton-Taylor, Portakabin's own spin doctor. "And I think you'll find those damp boxes littering playgrounds in the 1970s and 80s weren't actually real Portakabins, but poor imitations. Some of our units have lasted longer than a lot of 70s tower blocks."

Bozena Laraway, head of St Albans Catholic primary school, recently took delivery of her spanking new Lilliput. She says: "My immediate reaction was urrggh - grotty. But I went to see the factory and now I'm converted. I think mine is the most beautiful building in St Albans."

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