Busy Bees founder and childcare pioneer John Woodward dies

Catherine Gaunt
Friday, September 11, 2020

John Woodward, one of the leading figures in the early years sector and a co-founder of the UK’s largest nursery group has died.

John Woodward pictured after accepting his OBE at Buckingham Palace
John Woodward pictured after accepting his OBE at Buckingham Palace

The co-founder and president of Busy Bees Childcare, who was in his mid-sixties, trained as a special needs teacher and founded Busy Bees Nurseries with five other teachers, including Marg Randles, who remains with Busy Bees today.

Frustrated with the lack of high-quality childcare available for their own children, they opened the first Busy Bees nursery in Lichfield, Staffordshire in 1984, starting what was to become one of the first nursery groups in the UK.

Since then, Busy Bees has grown to become one of the largest international nursery groups in the world, with a network of settings, including in Singapore, Malaysia, Canada and Australia.

In 1998, Mr Woodward set up one of the first childcare voucher systems and launched a new childcare voucher and employee benefits company, Busy Bees Benefits in 2010.

In 2015, he was made an OBE for his services to early years education, alongside co-founder Marg Randles, who was recognised for her services to children and families.

In recent years he had become committed to solving the adult social care crisis, using his experience in delivering salary sacrifice schemes to campaign for a similar system of adult social care vouchers.

Interviewed in The Guardian in July, he said, ‘The Government has got to start properly funding social care. Now is the time to do it. I believe adult social care has to be a mixed economy. There has to be state-provided provision as well as privately provided provision, and everybody should work together.’

In a statement from Busy Bees announcing the news, Marg Randles, fellow founder of Busy Bees, said, ‘It is with deep sadness that we advise you of the passing of our dear friend and founder, John Woodward.

‘Former CEO and one of the six founders, John’s vision to offer quality care and education to children saw the birth of Busy Bees. His desire to offer children and families the very best saw Busy Bees grow from a small UK-based operation to an international business, recognised across the world for delivering excellence. 

‘Throughout his career John dedicated his time, knowledge and entrepreneurial leadership with the intention of making a difference in the lives of others, evidenced by sector changing advances such as the voucher scheme and workplace benefits.

Celebrating the 30th birthday of Busy Bees Nurseries with co-founder Marg Randles

‘Anyone lucky enough to have worked with John will have experienced, first hand, his kindness, his encouragement and drive to do what is right, for John was truly a man of the people. His determination to succeed is emulated and will live on throughout Busy Bees.

'Thousands of children who have attended Busy Bees have received the best start in life, and they will always form part of John’s legacy. The heartfelt thoughts and wishes of everyone at Busy Bees go to John’s family, and his friends with whom he shared so much and will forever be missed. 

‘John, we are all better because we knew you, and you will be dearly missed.’

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), said, 'John was a wonderful visionary and an ambassador for early years and childcare. For decades, John along with his team, focused his energies on putting children first in delivering high-quality care which has always been at the centre of Busy Bees’ ethos. John, ever modest, was always full of praise for his colleagues and his team. We will miss his energy and enthusiasm.

‘It is with great sadness that we learned of John Woodward’s death and we would like to send out our best wishes and condolences to his family and friends.'

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