All smiles as pre-school celebrates 50th anniversary

published on 10 Feb 2023

A preschool set up by The Salvation Army in Leigh-on-Sea in 1973 celebrated its 50th birthday last month.

A celebration weekend to mark Smiley Centre For Children is planned for June and at the end of January, former staff members came to the church and charity at Glendale Gardens to mark 50 years since the preschool, known locally as Smiley’s at The Salvation Army, first opened.

The school was led by Margaret Parkhill, assisted by Thelma Beacham, Pat Barnett, Joan Clarke, Christine Dolby and Carol Wantling, initially opening for five mornings a week.

Margaret Parkhill, Pat Barnett and Mandy Jones, a former pre-school manager, were all present.

Margaret said she had a long-standing interest in nursery education and explained how Smiley Preschool came about.

Old Smiley Team
(L:R) Mandy, Pat and Margaret all marked the preschool's 50th birthday

She commented: “I knew that there was a need for playgroups in the area.  At that time pre-school education was mainly in private nursery schools and there were several of those in the area.  I felt also that it would be a vital part of the community work it was hoped to begin in our church.  The need was realised when after a few weeks we had as many children as we were allowed and a waiting list.

“We wanted it to be open to everybody. I have so many lovely memories. It has remained popular and I think that speaks volumes about the devotion of the leadership and the staff, and the fact that it has been in action for fifty years is testament to previous leaders and their helpers.”

Lauren Clay, current preschool manager, said the role is perfect for her.

She explained: “I never predicted just how much I would love working with the staff, children and their families, and church. The preschool has done such wonderful things in the last 50 years. We have an exciting future ahead and I am so proud to be a part of this family and community centred team.”

Smiley Team
The Smiley Preschool Team

Captain Rob and Captain Clare Davis lead The Salvation Army in Leigh-on-Sea.

Rob said he greatly values the relationship between the wider church and the preschool. At the annual carol service, and at other events during the year, preschool children and their families participate in the Sunday worship alongside the regular church family.

He commented: “We are looking into the future of Smiley’s Pre School for children and continuing our engagement with the families we support.  We are making preparations for a Breakfast and After School club to meet the local needs of Leigh-on-Sea families.  Fundraising plans are in place to enable this to become a reality.  We would welcome conversations with individuals and groups who could assist us with this.”

The preschool is open to children from the ages of two and a half to four and opens from 9.15 am to 3.15 pm Monday to Friday during term time. As a registered childcare provider, parents can use the government’s 30 hours of free childcare. Please email for more information

A Salvation Army Officer sitting and speaking with an older gentleman with a long silver beard.

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