'Emotional' farewell to Shropshire pre-school's 'Mrs Tufty The Safety Squirrel'

A pre-school in Shropshire has given an emotional send-off to a member of staff who has supported it for 37 years.

Chris Leyden with some of her young charges
Chris Leyden with some of her young charges

Chris Leyden, now 66, first became involved with Lilleshall Pre School when she joined the parent committee when her first child, Daniel, became a pupil.

Her daughter Tanith was also a pupil there and her husband Brian became involved in the close knit team as a volunteer.

Chris even became more involved as "Mrs Tufty" to give road safety advice to the children. She became a full time member of staff in 1986.

The character Tufty Fluffytail was an iconic character from the 1950s to the 1990s and was instrumental in helping children to learn about road safety.

Children, parents, friends, former staff and local residents put on a surprise retirement gathering for the well loved Mrs Leyden recently. Former pupils at Lilleshall Primary School sang a rendition of My Lighthouse which is one of Christine's favourite songs.

"It was a very emotional event," said Chris, who lives in Lilleshall and also has five grandchildren. "I felt very humbled and overwhelmed at the event.

"The school children sang me a song, it was really special.

"The pre-school is such a lovely, homely atmosphere but we would not be able to run it without the volunteers."

She added: "It's about everybody. I could not have done it without everyone's support. There is a lovely team with all the parents."

Jenny Urey, who chairs the pre school, said: "Christine has been fundamental to the success and good reputation of the pre school over decades, educating and nurturing thousands of children and generations of families in and around Lilleshall.

"It is rare you find one with such devotion and dedication to her job, always working above and beyond."

In an emotional farewell, Tina Williams, the pre school manager and also a long serving member of staff for more than 30 years said: "Christine is not just my colleague, she is my friend and we will miss her so much. She has done so much for the pre school".

Parish vicar Matthew Lefroy spoke at the recent event, saying: "Through pre school and her help with the Pathfinder group at St Michael’s Church she has had an impact on the lives of so many people in our community and beyond.

"This is often demonstrated to me when the parents of children who come to our Tiny TOTs group speak warmly of her or couples who are about to get married remember her.

"Always someone who prefers to stay in the background she has been an influence for good to so many in our community"

Chris left with arms full of gifts and love from many. Gifts included an engraved clock, weekend away vouchers, handmade memories teddy, cake, hamper and a memory lane scrap book. Each pupil at pre school presented her with flowers at the event.

The pre school prides itself on being known for it's 'homely' setting where children learn and have educational fun in a safe environment and where every child is treated equally.

A spokesman said it is a pre school where you can be greeted with smiles, laughter and well mannered children, avoiding the ever growing pressures of digital technology. They say they teach skills using a back to basics approach.

Chris's husband Brian has also supported pre-school at fundraising events and helped out with DIY and as Chris retires, the pre school also thanked Brian for his contribution to the pre school over the years.

The spokesman added: "We all wish Christine a very happy retirement and hope she comes back to help out - may be as Mrs Tufty again."

Since retiring Chris has been busy helping at activity days in Muxton, taking a garden shed down and puppy sitting and hasn't had much time to think of going back.

"When September comes and I can see the children go back to school that's when it will really hit home," she said.

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