A RAT infestation has forced the temporary closure of the Tops Day Nursery in Lymington as pest controllers were brought in.
The children’s nursery was set up three years ago within the former All Saints Church building on All Saints Road after other users, including a preschool and lunch club, were given notice to leave.
The building then underwent an extensive refurbishment before reopening as a nursery providing 52-week a year childcare for babies from three months through to school-aged children up to 11 years old.
However, last week the business was forced to call in pest control and deep cleaners to tackle the rats which got into the nursery through holes under the organ in the chapel, and then moved around old heating ducts.
Tops founder and managing director Cheryl Hadland said: “We are acutely aware that this situation is inconvenient and worrying for parents, as well as being of concern to local employers and neighbours.
“We are particularly grateful for the support and encouragement from parents to nursery staff, thank you!”
Alternative care provisions were offered to all parents, with arrangements made for youngsters to be transported to Tops Nursery in Fawley.
Nursery staff decided to get help after a rat was spotted running through a play room.
Environmental health officers and Ofsted were called, and the building has now been closed to children and staff while the problem is tackled.
After several attempts to flush out the rats, the one-day closure became a week as the exterminators worked both inside the church and in the surrounding grounds.
A deep clean will be started after the extermination, which will extend the closure for a further two or three days.
A spokesperson for New Forest District Council confirmed: “Our food and safety team have been working closely with Tops Day Nursery in Lymington to address a rodent infestation.
“Environmental Health visited the site following a complaint concerning the safety of children and staff, and secured agreement for the nursery to close.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and supporting the nursery to ensure that the pest issue is resolved and the premises are adequately cleaned and disinfected.
“The business will not be allowed to reopen until all necessary works have been undertaken and there are no further risks to the children and staff.”
Tops Nursery is offering parents an alternative provision at a sister site in Fawley with coaches collecting children and staff from Lymington at 9am and returning them at 5.30pm.
Parents also have the option to keep their children off without charge while the work is undertaken.
A spokesperson for the nursery said: “Staff will have to be particularly diligent not to leave any crumbs or food around to attract them back. The church and hall are expected to be open as usual from next week.
“Apparently mice and rats are increasingly challenging in very old buildings. Even Buckingham Palace has suffered recently.”
Rose Riley from Lymington, whose daughter attends Tops, praised staff and bosses for going “over and above” to ensure there were alternative measures put in place for working parents.
She explained that although her daughter attends only half-day sessions, Tops had arranged for her to be given a full day of care in Fawley at no additional cost.
She said: “The staff at Tops are absolutely incredible and they have done everything in their power to ensure the children are safe, happy and well cared for.
“Unfortunately rats are a fact of nature in an old building and they have done what they have to do to deal with the situation whilst also being respectful and caring to the needs of working parents.”
Speaking on behalf of the PCC and All Saints Steering Committee, Bill Gulland said: “The PCC is very satisfied with the way Tops has handled this unpleasant situation, and impressed with the calm professionalism of the Tops personnel, whose first concern throughout has been the wellbeing of children and their parents / carers.”
Tops Day Nurseries group was established in Parkstone in 1990 and operates 30 nurseries between Portsmouth and Taunton including one at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital.