‘Horrified’ parents and teachers at Petra Ecclestone’s centre for autistic children are in tears

‘Horrified’ parents and teachers at Petra Ecclestone’s centre for autistic children are in tears after Formula One heiress pulled her funding

  • Petra, 33, bankrolled ‘Petra’s Place’ to offer a lifeline to struggling families
  • She experienced first-hand the dismal care provision to special needs children
  • But the centre in Chelsea, west London, will close unless new funding is found
  • Managing director blamed ‘our main funder’ for the ‘shock’ decision to close 

Parents and teachers at Petra Ecclestone’s centre for autistic children were left in tears after the Formula One heiress pulled her funding.

Multi-millionaire Petra, 33, bankrolled ‘Petra’s Place’ to offer a lifeline to struggling families after she experienced first-hand the dismal care provision available to special needs children five years ago.

But now the centre in Chelsea, west London, is set to close its doors just days before Christmas unless new funding can be found leaving parents and staff ‘reeling’ from the unexpected news.

In a devastating email managing director Sarah Kyle blamed ‘our main funder’ for the ‘shock’ decision to close the centre next month.

The father of a child at the nursery revealed to The Times that parents and teachers had been in tears and said: ‘They’re horrified with what’s going on.’

A mother said her non-verbal daughter’s life had been transformed by the centre after she was traumatised at her previous nursery.

She said: ‘I’ve gone from my child being a nervous wreck to being someone who’s blossoming and learning.’

Ms Kyle wrote to parents: ‘It is with the deepest regret that I have to announce the closure of Petra’s Place as of 16th December this year.

Parents and teachers at Petra Ecclestone's centre for autistic children were left in tears after the Formula One heiress pulled her funding

Parents and teachers at Petra Ecclestone’s centre for autistic children were left in tears after the Formula One heiress pulled her funding

Multi-millionaire Petra, 33, bankrolled 'Petra's Place' (pictured) to offer a lifeline to struggling families after she experienced first-hand the dismal care provision available to special needs children five years ago

Multi-millionaire Petra, 33, bankrolled ‘Petra’s Place’ (pictured) to offer a lifeline to struggling families after she experienced first-hand the dismal care provision available to special needs children five years ago

But now the centre in Chelsea, west London , is set to close its doors just days before Christmas unless new funding can be found leaving parents and staff 'reeling' from the unexpected news

But now the centre in Chelsea, west London , is set to close its doors just days before Christmas unless new funding can be found leaving parents and staff ‘reeling’ from the unexpected news

‘I appreciate this will come as a great shock to you and you are bound to be upset by this news, but unfortunately due to personal circumstance the decision has been made to close by our main funder.’ 

On Thursday night, the management of ‘Petra’s Place’ was frantically trying to secure new backers for the nursery.

Some 20 children, with varying levels of autism, attend the nursery, with more youngsters benefiting from therapy sessions held at the centre.

Worried parents are now struggling to find alternative specialist childcare for their youngsters.

The mother of one youngster who attends the nursery told MailOnline: ‘The whole rug has been ripped out from under us.

‘Autistic kids are very focused on routine. This is going to be devastating for him. He won’t understand.

‘His whole world will be shattered. The staff there are excellent. Going there has done wonders for him.

‘Mainstream nurseries are no keen to take in special needs kids. There are very few of them in London and they are all full.

‘It’s terrible timing and a massive shock for parents and staff. Everyone is devastated.’

Another mother added: ‘This has come as a massive shock.

‘Most of the children cannot attend a mainstream nursery since their care needs are so complex.

The Formula One heiress said she was inspired to open the centre in 2018 to help other families after her daughter Lavinia was suspected of suffering from autism

The Formula One heiress said she was inspired to open the centre in 2018 to help other families after her daughter Lavinia was suspected of suffering from autism

In a devastating email managing director Sarah Kyle blamed 'our main funder' for the 'shock' decision to close the centre next month

In a devastating email managing director Sarah Kyle blamed ‘our main funder’ for the ‘shock’ decision to close the centre next month

‘There are very few special needs nurseries in London, and almost all have lengthy waiting lists so finding another place is almost impossible.’

A third mother told MailOnline: ‘Closing down the nursery will have a devastating effect on more than 20 children and their families.

‘To suddenly say “you’re out” and that’s it is devastating. These children need to be somewhere special. It’s very hard to get them the experience that suits them.

‘We are told that early intervention will make a big difference to the rest of their lives.

‘And so to be told that the nursery will close with such short notice is terrible.’

The Formula One heiress said she was inspired to open the centre in 2018 to help other families after her daughter Lavinia was suspected of suffering from autism.

Her daughter, then aged five, was initially treated in the USA and Petra told who she was dismayed by the care Lavinia received when the family returned to Britain.

Petra said in 2018: ‘The doctors were not helpful, there was very little advice and few treatment options.

‘One doctor even said to me; “If you think her behaviour is so bad just get a nanny.” I was completely taken aback, it was quite shocking.’

Worried parents are now struggling to find alternative specialist childcare for their youngsters as the nursery's management team desperately search for a new funder

Worried parents are now struggling to find alternative specialist childcare for their youngsters as the nursery’s management team desperately search for a new funder

Lavinia was eventually determined not to have autism, but Ms Ecclestone said the experience gave her the idea for Petra’s Place, which focuses on children aged 18 months to five years.

Petra came under fire last year after it emerged that her fountain had claimed taxpayers’ money to furlough the eight nursery staff.

Model Petra Ecclestone divorced troubled former gold bullion dealer James Stunt in 2017.

In 2019 the mother-of-four made headlines when her £86 million US home became the most expensive sold in the state of California.

In July this year the 32-year-old Formula One heiress married former used car salesman Sam Palmer, 38, from Essex, in a lavish ceremony at her £170 million London mansion.

The couple now live in Los Angeles with their four children.

A spokeswoman for the Petra Ecclestone Foundation said the heiress will ‘support’ the news owners through the ‘transition’.

She told MailOnline: ‘Having fully funded the creation and contributed to the costs of running the centre of [sic] the past five years, The Petra Ecclestone Foundation will support a new ownership over the coming months.’

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