Nursery Management: Case Study - Grace's Day Nursery

Katy Morton
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

By turning grandmother's listed manor house into a unique day nursery, this threesome is definitely keeping it in the family, says Katy Morton.

Owners of a Kent garden centre are branching into a nursery business of a different kind. James Evans, his wife Joanna Laddie and cousin Andrew Evans, who help run Ruxley Manor Garden Centre, near Sidcup in Kent, have expanded the family business by converting the 17th century house in the grounds of the garden centre into Grace's Day Nursery.

They named the nursery in honour of their grandmother Grace Evans, who used to live there. James Evans says, 'I don't know of anyone else who has done this at a garden centre.

'Ruxley Manor is perfect for a children's day nursery and has been sitting empty since 2000, when our grandmother passed away. I spent my childhood at Ruxley Manor and I'm sure our grandmother would be pleased there are going to be children in the house once again.'

The nursery, which is expected to open in late October, has been funded by the existing family businesses. It will have two levels and provide places for 60 children aged from three months to five years.

The garden centre was opened in 1964 by current managing director Richard Evans. James and Andrew (Richard's son), the fifth generation of the family at the manor, got involved in running it nine years ago.

The cousins decided to start the nursery three years ago, when James and his wife, who also works part-time as a doctor, struggled to find suitable daycare for their first child.

'We looked into many different childcare options and soon discovered that although there were lots of nurseries to choose from, finding one that was right for our family was very hard,' explains Dr Laddie. 'It was important to us that we found an environment that was safe, nurturing, diverse, stimulating and encouraged personal development. So when the opportunity to convert the manor house into a day nursery arose, we jumped at the chance.'

After drawing up plans, the three owners applied for permission to change the use of the building.

'Setting up the nursery proved to be a lengthy process,' says James Evans. 'And because the building is listed, it made it more difficult.'

Work to repair and restore the manor house began in February. Air conditioning was also installed and a section of the building turned into a flat to be used by nursery staff.

Mr Evans adds, 'The nursery is unique in that it will be run from a period building with modern facilities. We looked at the nursery from a parent's perspective and wanted to create a home-from-home feel.

'We hope to build a strong relationship between the setting and the garden centre, giving children the opportunity to learn about the garden centre's animals and the chance to plant seeds and flowers in the nursery's large vegetable patch.'

James and Andrew Evans, who have no experience of working in childcare, will oversee the running of the business, while Dr Laddie will help out two days a week.

The nursery will be managed by Michelle Bennett. She will be appointing 15 members of staff. Mr Evans says, 'We had over 50 people apply for the position. We chose Michelle as she has a very strong background and showed the level of professionalism that we were looking for. We are looking forward to working with her to make the nursery a childcare centre of excellence for the area.'

The trio have advertised the nursery at the garden centre and received a lot of interest. 'We already have a waiting list,' says Mr Evans. 'The council has been really enthusiastic as well and said there is definitely scope for another nursery in the area.'

Building work is due to finish in September, when the trio will hold open days for prospective parents, ahead of the launch in October.

James Evans adds, 'Although this is a new venture, our aim is clear - to create an excellent childcare setting. We are excited by the prospect of working together to achieve this.'

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