Thistledown Play Centre closes doors

After offering 49 years of early childhood education, Thistledown Play Centre management removed the institution’s signage as the school officially ended its journey in an emotional ceremony recently.

Established in 1972 by Beryl Oldham, teacher-principal and owner Esther Dowling, who had been with the school for the past 31 years, said she was finally retiring together with the school. “Today was a mixed-feeling celebration. The sign had been up there since 1980 and it is the first time it has been taken down since. Honestly, I have excitement in me because I know this is the beginning of new things. Yes, I was sad because 49 years is part of history that has gone down, but a new phase is coming,” she said.

It was an ambivalent moment as former headmistress Louise de Beer assisted Dowling in removing the sign, making way for the new Benea’s Educare Centre signage. Dowling wished Benea Smith well as she will be starting her own institution at the old premises.

She continued to thank the community for the support, especially during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic when everyone battled financially. “Whenever we would have a function, the community of Komani would offer assistance because they knew what the school stood for and what it had provided in the community of Komani over the years. I have had children who attended the school, who grew up and had their own families and children who also went to the school. A lot of them have become leaders, actors, professional rugby players, lawyers and doctors.”

Dowling said of her long period in the education space, the one thing she was fond of and would definitely miss were the children she taught and her staff. “God gave me the gift of working with children. That is the one thing I will miss and the wonderful staff because they had become my family. Watching a child arrive at the school at the age of three and seeing them grow into the person they become; that to me is magic. I get excited seeing them become familiar with the routine and when they start to communicate…but this was a decision I had to make.”

The Rev Lihai Bercovich said the building belonging to St Columba’s Presbyterian Church had existed for more than 150 years and used to be a shelter for orphans in the town. “We have had a good relationship with the different headmistresses, principals and the staff. Many community leaders come from this school and we hope to see, with the new educare, a centre that will provide a more affordable education so we see more children come to the school. It is an amazing thing that, through this season, where we see a lot of businesses closing, there was something new, rising and being born from an old foundation.”