Heathcote could have its first childcare centre by the beginning of next year.
The childcare centre will form part of the town’s future Children’s Community Hub, which will also include health services such as speech pathology, counselling, a maternal health nurse and a visiting paediatrician, educational and development programs around such skills as literacy and reading, and initiatives addressing such issues as family violence.
Sandra Slatter, chairwoman of the Heathcote Community Children’s Services Association and project manager for the hub, said the group was expecting the planning permit shortly and was working on a building permit.
Late last year, the state government announced $650,000 in funding for the hub, and St John’s parish, part of the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo, has contributed $250,000.
It is hoped construction will begin in March or April.
Mrs Slatter said the childcare centre was something the township had been pushing for for some 15 years.
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Most of the people working for the town’s two major employers, Heathcote Health and Mandalay Resources, lived in Bendigo or Seymour because of the lack of childcare options, she said.
Heathcote had the highest number of home-operated microbusinesses of any locality in Greater Bendigo, Mrs Slatter said, which had also been attributed to there being no childcare centre.
She said an absence of specialist children’s health and development services also meant parents had to travel, leading to issues slipping through the cracks.
In addition, Mrs Slatter said, some people were isolated and unable to travel.
A Community Childcare Association study conducted in 2016 found some families did not stay in the town because of the lack of long daycare and after-school care, while a recent survey focused on a possible Business Incubator Hub suggested the absence of childcare inhibited business development and growth.
Mrs Slatter hopes the development of the hub will encourage more people to live in the town.
“This centre will be a real catalyst for Heathcote, and it actually demonstrates how a community can pull together to make something happen,” Mrs Slatter said.
It is hoped some children’s services will be available by the end of the year, while the childcare centre will open for 2019.
Jenny’s Early Learning Centre will provide the hub’s childcare service, City of Greater Bendigo will provide the maternal health nurse, other health services will be provided by Bendigo Community Health Services, and Communities for Children will deliver other programs.