The six break-ins have been shocking for the group, which operates eight nurseries and one out-of-school club in the area, and has led to a huge wave of support from the local and early years communities.
Two nurseries were broken into twice – so hit on two separate occasions – and three were targeted all on the same night, Saturday 13 February.
Owner David Wright told Nursery World, ‘In each case, they broke down the front or back door, broke into the locked offices and damaged the premises significantly. Out of the offices they took cash, tablets and even print cartridges… It is clear they were targeting Paint Pots in particular. Though the police cannot be sure if it’s a vendetta or they simply locked onto our name. One other nursery from a different group has been targeted in the same period.’
‘Two of our settings, Burgess Road and Howard Road, were targeted twice which was awful.
'And when they hit Waterloo Road Nursery they took it to another level.’
'At Waterloo Road the intruders urinated in the baby and toddler rooms before turning up the heating to ensure the maximum damage and smell.
‘Obviously it is very distressing for everybody involved, staff, parents, the community. It’s upset everyone who’s heard about it, because it’s so destructive. After eight days, you wake up everyday wondering what has happened last night, entirely focused on that mentally, and dealing with what follows; the clean up, the repairs, the insurance, the police. We haven’t had any incident for a week so hopefully this is the end of it, but obviously we just don’t know.
The group is based solely in Southampton, with 110 employees and providing 428 childcare places.
‘My wife Anna has said, “They have broken our doors but they can’t break our spirit,” and that sums it up for me. The resolve of staff and parents is what has kept us going. It is a very emotional experience as the nurseries are like a second home to our children and staff. Some staff now don’t want to open up on their own anymore, understandably, for fear of what they might find.’
‘As far as support has gone, the donations, messages of goodwill, people volunteering to come help us clear up, has been extraordinary,’ said David.
‘From the managing director of a large national chain of nurseries to a local neighbouring nursery. Someone even set up a fundraising campaign for us on Facebook and local publicity on the radio and TV has led to us receiving supplier equipment, cash, flowers and cakes. It is a real testament to the early years community in the widest sense.’
As of Friday (26 February) donations from supporters had exceeded more than £1,000.
The nursery group made the decision to publicise the break-ins and damages as the police currently have no strong leads. They are appealing for information.
‘The problem is we don’t have leads at the moment so it’s all speculation. You feel very vulnerable when something like this happens. And even when you have CCTV when people have balaclavas and cutters you can’t do much to identify them. No one knows who these people are or why they are targeting us.
‘The police don’t think it was professionals because they are not using specific tools to break in, they are just using brute force. So it could be a minor campaign of some sort, by a relative of an ex member of staff or something. We do know there is a lot of criminal activity in our area at the moment.’