If you have the right place and the right staff, even in this economic climate a nursery can succeed'. These words have followed a very positive four years for Clare Roberts, chief executive of Cheshire-based nursery group Kids Planet.
Ms Roberts set up Kids Planet in 2008 with her father John Hoban, having struggled to find suitable childcare for her first child. In April this year they opened their seventh nursery in £1.2 million purpose-built premises in Prestwich. The setting boasts a fingerprint entry system, CCTV throughout, a sensory room and separate gardens for each of the rooms.
This was the first of the group's nurseries which it has designed itself. 'We have one other purpose-built nursery, but that is on a school site so I didn't have any involvement in the design,' says Ms Roberts. 'We have nurseries in a diverse range of buildings, including what used to be a chapel, a health clinic and a doctor's surgery. All our other nurseries have fingerprint entry system doors which are key fob-operated.'
Much thought went into planning the layout of the new building.
'We have a room for the babies, and all other rooms have direct access to their own outside area so we can tailor the area to their age. Having freeflow is so important. It means they can go out when they want, rather than having to stick to a timetable for access.'
When deciding on the location it was an advantage that the area was well known by Mr Hoban, who is the chairman and formerly owned the nursery chain Holyrood. Ms Roberts had also at one time worked in a nursery nearby.
She says, 'We were looking at good sites on commuter routes and liked the idea of being on one of the busiest roads in Prestwich, which is a main road into Manchester. We did some research and looked at the area and what there was on offer locally. None of the other nurseries nearby were modern or purpose-built.'
For Kids Planet, the advantage of having a purpose-built site is that the nursery could be designed around the children, rather than having to adapt what was already there.
'We've started with a blank piece of paper, and everything has been done with the children in mind,' says Ms Roberts. 'We specified exactly what we wanted to the architect and builder, so everything is really good quality.
'The building sits well on the road. It is not too futuristic and holds its own against some of the Victorian buildings.'
Of the group's seven settings, the Prestwich nursery is the fastest filling to date. Four months after opening it has 50 full-time equivalent children registered, with numbers soon to go up to 70, and it can cater for up to 140 children. Currently it has 18 staff, due to go up to 35 or 40 when full.
The demographics of the area are very mixed and the nursery's menus reflect this. 'We have quite a diverse mix of children. We cater for all diets with a qualified nursery chef preparing halal, kosher, and vegetarian meals on site,' says Ms Roberts.
She has plans for another three nurseries to be opened in the next 18 months.
'This is the fourth nursery we have created from scratch and every one has been a learning curve,' she says. 'I have learned not to get stressed. Each time, just before the end, you worry that things are not going to come together, but they always do in the end. It is less stressful the fourth time round.'