Ulster University students slam plan to shut Coleraine campus creche over building safety fears
Students at the Ulster University campus in Coleraine have hit out at plans to close its creche.
The Stepping Stones facility, which has been on the campus for 42 years, is being closed because of health and safety concerns about the building it is currently in.
If it is closed permanently the move could put up to 17 jobs at risk.
The creche serves student parents, staff and the wider community in accommodation on campus that includes three rooms. In 2016 more than 50 children were registered as being cared for at the facility.
Additionally, the creche provides a breastfeeding-friendly environment for students and staff.
The building it is currently in is due to be demolished, however a spokesman for the Ulster University Students' Union has (UUSU) claimed the university had not offered any alternative arrangements for the creche.
A spokeswoman for the university said it had no option but to shut the building the creche is in because of "significant health and safety concerns".
UUSU says the university is refusing to relocate it within the campus. The university has hit back saying the creche was informed about the decision to close the building in January and was given "sufficient notice to secure alternative premises".
It is understood that alternative premises have been located off campus, but many of the users feel it is too far away.
In 2013 there was outrage when UU closed similar creches on its Magee and Jordanstown campuses.
UUSU president Colum Mackey has criticised the university's handling of the matter. "The provision of flexible childcare is vital to widen access to prospective students who are parents while supporting gender equality in higher education," he said.
"Providing quality, stimulating and caring childcare for students and staff on campus is imperative in supporting Ulster students.
"UUSU opposes this move, which could place some of our most vulnerable students at a very significant disadvantage.
"We are calling on Ulster University to work with the creche and with students to maintain this vital service on campus." Student parent Shannen Maher said the creche had been a "lifesaver" for her.
"I am a single parent and doing everything alone and studying on top of that is hard enough, but having the creche on campus makes it that bit better, easier and less stressful," she said.
"It also gives me peace of mind knowing that my daughter is so close if something were to happen."
An Ulster University spokeswoman responded saying it had no option but to close the building.
"Stepping Stones is a business entirely independent from the university which operates, free of charge, from university premises," she said.
"The building which the creche occupies has reached the end of its lifespan.
"Stepping Stones was informed of this decision very early in January and was provided with sufficient notice to secure alternative premises."