A West Country farmer's wife looked closer to home to start her own children's day nursery after struggling to find suitable daycare for her children.
Katherine Farthing pitched the idea of opening Brue Farm Day Nursery on the grounds of the family dairy farm near Castle Cary, Somerset to her husband after having to travel nine miles from home to find full-time nursery care for their youngest daughter.
'I saw an acute need for a nursery in the area,' explains Ms Farthing. 'There are few settings that provide full daycare within a nine-mile radius, which is really limiting for working parents. I thought it would be a wonderful idea to open a nursery on the grounds of the farm - there is plenty of space and many opportunities for learning.'
The family contacted the South West Rural Enterprise Gateway, which informed Ms Farthing about grants available from the Rural Development Programme for England. She forwarded a proposal and was awarded a grant of £129,000 to help fund the cost of the new building.
In the process of developing plans for the purpose-built nursery, Ms Farthing and her husband visited a number of nurseries in the area to elicit their valuable input.
'People were really nice in letting us look around their settings and sharing their experiences and ideas with us,' says Ms Farthing. 'We were able to take lots of their suggestions and use them in our own nursery.'
Ms Farthing felt the design of the building was crucial to the nursery and wanted to create a 'home away from home' environment suited to the children's needs. 'The key thing was to make all the windows child height so the children could see out into the countryside,' she explains. They also had underfloor heating and zoned sensor lighting installed to make the building as eco-friendly as possible and reduce the nursery's carbon footprint.
During the three years the nursery was being built, Ms Farthing, who previously had no formal childcare qualifications, completed her NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Children's Care, Learning and Development so she could take a hands-on role at the setting.
She employed an experienced nursery manager, Wendy Oliver, to help implement the Early Years Foundation Stage, and three full-time staff members.
Brue Farm Day Nursery, which opened last October, is already running at a third full and Ms Farthing is confident that, as word of mouth spreads, it will soon be running at full capacity, offering full daycare for 26 children aged from three months to five years. She has also taken on another staff member and a nursery chef, who works one day a week, and hopes to employ extra staff as the nursery grows.
Ms Farthing believes a key feature of the nursery is its outdoor space and the opportunities it provides for children to learn about the countryside. She said, 'We take a walk around the grounds of the farm every day and give children the chance to pet and feed the cows and ponies. It provides a different learning opportunity and helps teach them about wildlife.'
The children also help care for hens and rabbits in the pets' corner. Next month lambs will be introduced to the setting and a wild flower bed will be planted to attract minibeasts.
Other plans to expand the nursery's provision include creating a beach scene in the garden where children will be able to play in an old rowing boat and sandpit.
Healthy eating is equally important and all the nursery meals are home-cooked and made from locally sourced fresh food. In the spring the children will help grow vegetables in a vegetable patch and these will eventually be used in the children's nursery meals.