The acquisition brings the total number of nurseries owned by Bright Horizons to 214, offering more than 17,000 places. It is the first major acquisition for the chain’s managing director James Tugendhat, who was appointed in April.
Little Unicorn was founded by Kate Williamson in 1998 in Canary Wharf, a major business district of London where all of the four nurseries are now situated. Nick Brown, associate director at Christie & Co handled the sale and said, ‘At the time Kate started her business, Canary Wharf was a very different place to the thriving area which it is today, and the development of a fledgling childcare business at that time was perceived to be a potential risk, particularly as Kate was of a relatively young age.
‘However, the sheer determination of her and her family to succeed enabled them to not only open their first setting, but grow and evolve the business to where it is today, a thriving group of four premium childcare settings which also offer emergency childcare facilities and back up care.’
Unusually, none of the Little Unicorn nurseries, with a total of 350 places, offer funded or discounted places. They derive revenue solely through paid-for sessions.
Ms Williamson commented that Bright Horizons and Little Unicorn share a joint vision. ‘While I am very sorry to be leaving the nurseries after 18 years, it is time to hand over to a very experienced and like-minded company who will take the nurseries, practitioners, children and families into the future. I wish everyone well,’ she said.
James Tugendhat, managing director, international of Bright Horizons, said, 'We would like to offer a very warm welcome to our new colleagues, families, and employer-clients from the four Little Unicorn nurseries. We have long admired Little Unicorns; like us, they share a strong commitment to providing exciting learning environments for children and support for busy working families. This acquisition enables us to make our exceptional care, education and family solutions available to even more children, families and employers.'
Bright Horizons, which acquired the Active Learning nursery group last summer, remains second in size to Busy Bees which operates 257 settings in the UK.
Mark Traynor, partner at HRC Law, advised Little Unicorn on its sale to Bright Horizons. He said, 'It has been an active few months in the nursery sector after a flurry of deals and we’re set to see more. The high profile location of this site and excellent reputation built buy the team at Little Unicorn made it an attractive acquisition for an ambitious operator such as Bright Horizons.'
- Mark Traynor will be running a workshop with Courteney Donaldson, head of childcare at Christie & Co on buying and selling nurseries at the Nursery World Business Summit on 8 November. HRC Law has developed a specialism in working with day nurseries across the UK as the sector has seen a high volume of deal activity and consolidation. More information and booking here.