Headteacher of Sunderland nursery hit by ‘distressing’ arson attack calls on community to show support

Pennywell Early Years headteacher Claire Nicholson is angry over an arson attack.
Pennywell Early Years headteacher Claire Nicholson is angry over an arson attack.

The headteacher of a Sunderland nursery is calling on the community to rally around the centre after its base was targeted by suspected arsonists.

The nature garden at Pennywell Early Years Centre, in Portsmouth Road, was set on fire in the early hours of Sunday, causing damage which will cost thousands of pounds to repair.

Pennywell Early Years headteacher Claire Nicholson is angry over an arson attack.

Pennywell Early Years headteacher Claire Nicholson is angry over an arson attack.

An outdoor shed was destroyed while fire also spread to another shed there.

Fire chiefs have said that the cause is “malicious ignition”.

Just hours later, yobs daubed graffiti on the building and a group, believed to be made up of children, tried to get into the nursery.

Police and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service are investigating exactly what happened.

Despite the incidents, the centre, which rated as an “outstanding” early years education provider by Ofsted in November 2014, is open to children and families as usual.

Headteacher Claire Nicholson told the Echo: “We are open as normal and will continue to offer the best service that we can for families in this area.

“Now we just hope that the community will really come together and give us some assistance to support us through this.

“It’s thousands of pounds of damage that has been caused and it’s a heck of a lot of money that this will cost to repair.

“I’m sure everyone is away of the state of education finances at the minute and we don’t want the children in the locality to suffer.”

Ms Nicholson added that the incidents following the fire have added insult to injury as far as staff are concerned.

“It looks as though children aged about nine and 10 tried to access the building on Sunday and they seem hell bent on causing damage,” she said.

“We can do with all of the help we can get because it is very distressing for all of us here.

“We had one of the most beautiful gardens and now it has been destroyed.

“It’s tragic that wanton vandalism can result in this kind of outcome.

“It’s been very difficult for all of us here but we’re still offering the same services as we have and we want that to continue.”

Following the fire, a spokesman for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said: “At 2.55am on Sunday, eight firefighters from community fire station in North Moor attended Portsmouth Road in Sunderland.

“This was a single-storey building used as a nursery.

“The fire was in an outdoor shed, which was 100% severely damaged by fire.

“The fire spread to a second shed, which sustained 20% moderate fire damage.

“The fire was extinguished using one hose reel.

“Two breathing apparatus’ were also used.

“The cause is suspected malicious ignition.”