Staff at the only playgroup for special-needs children in Crawley are having to raise funds to help pay their wages.

Crawley Opportunity Pre School is so short of money it is in danger of closing after 18 years unless it can get regular financial help from the community.

Chairman Julie Beckley said it would be £5,000 in debt by the end of the year because each child was costing £4.50 a day more than it received from Government grants and parents.

The morning group, in Southgate Drive, Southgate, caters for pre-school children with mild to severe mental and physical disabilities, including Down's syndrome, autism, epilepsy, spina bifida, speech disorders and behavioural problems.

It has 19 pupils but the sessions are limited to 13 because of the high level of care each child requires.

To help raise money Julie did a sponsored walk on hot coals earlier this year which raised £150.

Julie, who has two children aged four and two with special needs, said: "It has been an on-going battle for survival for many years."

The playgroup sent out begging letters to local companies in May but has not had the response it hoped for.

It is appealing for sponsorship of the group and of staff, for discounts on health and hygiene products, donations of raffle prizes, collection boxes to be displayed and for help with diesel to run the group's minibus service.

She said: "A lot of our children are unable to attend other pre-schools because of their conditions. We work one-to-one with the children and have a qualified nurse.

"We give a service not only to the children but to their families who get a break and support when they need it."

Earlier this year the playgroup was awarded £4,000 by Tesco to buy equipment. This provided a small sensory room and a special needs computer.

Anyone who can help can call Julie on 01293 426739.