On Thursday the Stormont Executive announced that all parents will now be able to avail of childcare from July 1.

Aisling Daycare proprietors Bronagh McAllister and Una Dougherty closed their doors 14 weeks ago on March 24. Now they and their team are looking forward to welcoming parents and their children back to their award winning daycare on Hannahstown Hill.

Three months on from closing their doors, they never anticipated that going into “lockdown would be so much easier than coming out of it”.

“The past three months have been a myriad of ups and downs, but the end is in sight,” said Bronagh.

“The Department of Health has now extended the key worker list to include anyone who has been asked to return to work. A few weeks ago it was restricted to frontline workers and the numbers were capped at 15 per cent of overall registration.

Una explained: “Daycare owners and Early Years, the organisation for young children came together to lobby politicians and the Executive ministers for a cohesive approach to the keyworker list. After weeks of lobbying, the lists were finally amalgamated, and we are aiming for reopening on July 1.”

The Aisling team spoke of how they were in constant contact with their staff and parents throughout lockdown.

“Our team took part in a few ‘Lockdown Challenges’,” said Una. “Tic Toc was the new favourite, the football toilet roll challenge, sharing photos of them during lockdown, all to keep our name alive and to let our children see what their teachers were up to.

“Parents were sending many photos and videos of the children, which we shared on our social media platforms. We also had a few Zoom meetings and quizzes with the team. As the weeks passed, everyone’s energy faded as we all settled into a strange routine with the phrases of ‘new normal’ and ‘social distancing’.”

However once the go ahead was given for a July 1 reopening, Bronagh said that staff have been restructuring to facilitate the new routines.

“There are some restrictions that have to be implemented as per Social Services, parents will have to drop off the children at the front reception and cannot enter their child’s room. The children will be allocated a ‘play-pod’ which is basically a small group of children and staff who remain together with the aim of reducing the amount of contact people have with each other.”

She continued: “Each pod will be restricted to 12 children, there will be no interaction with other pods, all soft furnishings have to be removed. But it’s not all doom and gloom – it’s all about being creative and thinking outside the box for new activities, resources and routines. We are incredibly lucky to work in a partnership with Colin Glen allotments and have a well-established forest school. We hope to spend most of the summer exploring and developing the area with the children.”

When asked about implementing social distancing for the children, Una replied: “Social distancing for young children is not recommended, however, as far as is possible, older children will be encouraged to keep a distance between each other and avoid close physical contact.

“Parents have voiced their concern that their child will not be comforted or get a hug if they are upset – absolutely they will. The children will be loved and cared for as they always have been.

“We want to pay tribute to our families and friends who have been incredibly supportive during the past few months; to our landlord, who was readily available to offer advice and support; to Paul Maskey for organising Zoom meetings with childcare providers to listen to our concerns and getting answers; to the parents past and present who have been messaging us and keeping our spirits up and who are excited to come back. Also our team, who are unfailing in their commitment and dedication to the children they care for.

“As we approach 14 years of Aisling Daycare, we look forward to what the future will bring and that our ‘new normal’ will continue to provide the highest quality care for children.”