PARENTS of more than 20 children say they have been left devastated after being told their pre-school is to close within days.

The Our Place preschool in Hedge End will close its doors today after group leaders announced they were unable to afford a rent hike.

The popular group has met at the United Reformed Church in St John’s Road for the past eight years but those who run the group say they can no longer operate after members of the church agreed to increase the rent by a third.

According to the United Reformed Church the group has been paying a reduced rent for a number of years which now means the self funded church is running at a loss.

They claim increases in utility bills meant it was faced with raising the rent or losing the church.

But parents say the sudden demand has left them with less than a week to find new places in alternative pre schools in the area before they close for the end of term.

Mum of two Danielle Rowe said: “We’ve all shed tears and we will shed some more before the week is out. We are just all in shock that a church would do this. Apparently there is nothing we can do, this could happen to any pre-school. I really feel there should be some protection for community pre schools like ours against sudden increases in rent that just can’t be covered.”

No one from the nursery, which employs eight staff, wanted to comment on the closure.

The Rev Mike Perrott is the pastor who ministers at the church once a month. Although not involved with the day-to-day running of the church or any financial matters, Rev Perrott said church members were faced with a difficult choice.

“It is my understanding that it has been an ongoing issue that the pre-school did not pay the same rent as other groups and it came to a point that it had to be addressed.

“Around two months ago a meeting was held about the matter, outlining that the church was running at a loss. It simply could not pay its utility bills for gas and electricity with the rental income it was charging the pre-school.

“It was with enormous sadness that the decision was taken but it came down to either raising the rent of the preschool or putting the church’s future in doubt as, being a charity, it simply can’t afford to go into the red.”

He said the decision was made by the regular members of the church, that number around a dozen elderly parishioners, in order to safeguard the immediate future of the church itself.

A goodbye picnic for children, staff, and parents is planned for today’s final session.