Large nursery groups join forces to meet coronavirus challenges

Friday, March 20, 2020

More than 20 of the UK's leading nursery operators and early years organisations have formed a working group to co-ordinate responses and lobbying on the coronavirus crisis.

Sarah Steel, MD of Old Station Nursery
Sarah Steel, MD of Old Station Nursery

The UK Childcare COVID19 Crisis Working Group is being chaired by Arun Kanwar, partner of consultants Cairneagle, and facilitated by Sarah Steel, Managing Director of the Old Station Nursery, with the first meeting taking place on Thursday 19 March.

Mr Kanwar said that the aim of the forum is to ensure that the sector is working in unison, and its objectives are:

  • To share understanding on policy and to share experiences, including with insurance, funding and emergency relief measures.
  • To be joined up with the lobbying member organisations (in particular the NDNA and Early Years Alliance) – both to feed in their needs and to receive updates.
  • To share (and perhaps to collaborate on) approaches to navigating through the pending crisis (including any sustainable and ethical cost control measures).

Underpinning this, there is a need for operators (sometimes competitors) to be more open and collaborative with each other, Mr Kanwar added.

Those attending the remote launch meeting included Bright Horizons, Busy Bees, Kiddi Caru, Old Station Nursery, Fennies, Kids Planet, Seymour House, Toad Hall, Poppy and Jacks, Childbase, Snapdragons, Three Little Birds, N Family Club, All About Children, Kido, Tops Day Nurseries, The Early Years Alliance, the NDNA and Carole Edmond (former MD of Bright Horizons).

Discussions included:

  • The definition of key workers – possibly ranging between 10 per cent and 60-70 per cent of children. In line with this, the group discussed how to practically manage nurseries with only 10 per cent of children attending.
  • The fact that not all nurseries are expecting to close their doors on Friday while they await more guidance from their local authorities.
  • The lobbying efforts which are ongoing, including the recent success in ensuring that nurseries have achieved business rates exemption.
  • The inconsistency in the approach of insurers in covering nurseries (from zero coverage to a cap of £100,000).
  • Offline conversations which operators have had with MPs, in which they have heard that there will be ‘substantial measures’ announced soon.
  • The need for an electronic forum to share more transparently across the sector in relation to the COVID crisis (a plan is being put in place by the group to do so).

Mr Kanwar said, 'The childcare sector – and the country in general - is facing a crisis, the likes of which our generation has not seen before. It’s more important than ever that as providers work together as one to ensure they are serving the needs of the country and following official guidance, they are listened to by government to ensure that they can sustainably navigate through this emergency.

'We have watched from the sidelines for years, listening to ministers insisting that they have got the funding for the childcare sector right when the evidence clearly showed that they hadn’t. We’ve watched the government continually ignore the cries of the sector for financial support and trivialise the needs of those who are helping children to become tomorrow’s leaders.

'Today, the sector must come together to collaborate, both to work through this crisis and to make sure that they are listened to once and for all – otherwise we risk having no sector at the end of this.'

Ms Steel said, 'During this really difficult time we are all doing what we think is best and what will work, but need friends and colleagues to turn to for a sense check and some reassurance that we are on the right lines. We all want to do the best for the children in our care and for our amazing staff teams, so I think this forum can facilitate many conversations and will be really useful – both internally and externally.'

The group plans to convene regularly and is putting a plan in place to share conversations and approaches with the wider nursery community. The group said it wants to ensure that it is representing the entire sector, both through the participation of large groups and through member organisations.

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