As a ‘one in a million’ manager of this rural charity pre-school, Rachel led a committee which saved it from closure, and secured a move from church rooms to purpose-built premises on school grounds.
Known for her ‘tireless dedication’ to her work over two decades, the ‘brilliant and loved’ sector leader also runs wraparound care and holiday clubs, provides support to other settings under Somerset County Council’s peer-to-peer support scheme, and represents the ‘voice of early years providers’ across the county.
Willow Set Pre-School has been rated Outstanding across its most recent two Ofsted inspections. A request for testimonials in support of the nomination was circulated, and a deluge of messages followed from parents, children, staff and businesses.
Parent Nicola Coate, who is director of the nearby Willows & Wetlands Visitor Centre which hosts visits to the setting, declares, ‘Rachel certainly deserves recognition beyond Stoke St Gregory for her tireless dedication to her work. Everyone I know who has been touched by her work with the children would say the same thing. She is quite brilliant and so dedicated, we are lucky to have her.
‘In the years when the pre-school began, over 10 years ago, it was Rachel’s determination and faith that stopped it from folding completely. She has steadily built the pre-school to the thriving place it is now.’
Testimonials highlight that Rachel’s attitude to her studies and professional advancement have been ‘inspirational’, despite circumstances being testing at times. Ms Coate adds, ‘If you need proof of how much she is thought of, just arrange a visit and see for yourselves. You will see how much the parents and children love her.’
Rachel is no stranger to a 14-hour day, continually innovating to provide a rich curriculum, making the most of the outdoors and fostering community links. A fierce advocate of partnership working, she freely shares her ideas with other settings to the benefit of all children, and has campaigned for fairer funding. She even took on the leadership of a large local cluster group of schools and settings which are now more focused and up to date.
Fellow early years professional Sue Lawrence, manager of Comeytrowe Under Fives in Taunton, describes Rachel as a ‘friendly’ and ‘supportive’ figure, who responds quickly, with a ‘nothing is too much trouble’ attitude. As cluster lead Ms Lawrence says, ‘Rachel has a way of making the whole group feel connected and that early years is a shared area that we all unite behind in order to give our children the initial education and care that they deserve.’
Stephanie Webster, whose daughter was at the setting for two years, says, ‘This lady is one in a million.’
Describing Rachel as ‘outstanding’, the judges remarked on the clear examples provided of how she had made a difference, and her ‘commitment, campaigning and networking’.
‘Shows real leadership and commitment to supporting all parts of the EY sector in her local area’ - Judge
Tricia Pritchard, senior professional officer, Voice the union
Tricia recently celebrated 30 years at Voice, where she is valued for her early years leadership, campaigning and promotion of safer recruitment practices.
She formed and chairs the national Regulation Matters Campaign, calling for the registration of all childcare workers including nannies, and has contributed to the debate on television and in the press internationally.
As a champion of nannies, Tricia launched the PANN Nanny of the Year award, and has lobbied government to raise sector standards and boost respect for the early years workforce as a whole. She has worked with a broad range of organisations, including training providers such as Norland and childcare insurance specialist Morton Michel.
Rashada Bashir, Kids Around the Clock, Manchester
Margaret Mason, Children 1st Day Nurseries, the Midlands and South Yorkshire
For an individual whose long service and dedication in day-to-day work with young children are truly inspiring