Acquisition brings Busy Bees settings up to 214

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Busy Bees, the UK's largest nursery group, has acquired the Just Learning chain of 71 settings, bringing the total number of places the group offers to more than 19,000.

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The nursery group now operates 214 nurseries offering more than 19,600 childcare places, consolidating further its position as the biggest provider of nursery places and early years settings.

Just Learning, which includes the brands Just Learning, Careshare and Nunu, provides around 6,700 places, with its 71 settings in England, Scotland and Wales. Most of the nurseries are rated 'good' by Ofsted.

Conservative MP Michael Fallon and entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne established Just Learning in 1995. After Mr Bannatyne sold his share in 2001, the nursery chain acquired the Careshare nurseries in Scotland in 2003 and, following that, Nunu nurseries in 2009.

The move will give Busy Bees greater coverage across the North East and Scotland.

Marg Randles, Busy Bees' managing director, said, 'We are delighted to have acquired Just Learning; the nurseries are a perfect fit for Busy Bees. The acquisition demonstrates our confidence in the UK market.'

She added, 'Parents demand quality care for their children, and throughout the UK over many years Busy Bees has established an enviable reputation for its high standards.

'We have been working closely with the management team to ensure the handover is seamless for children, parents and staff. We will be keeping parents informed every step of the way, as we hope to further develop the excellent care, resources and services the nurseries currently offer.'

BUSY BEES: THE RISE OF A CHILDCARE EMPIRE

It reads like the script of a Hollywood blockbuster. How the founders of Busy Bees went from a converted house in Staffordshire to operating a multi-million pound nursery and childcare voucher business.

1983: Lynn and John Woodward and their friends Margaret Randles and David Thackery, unable to find the childcare they want for their children, sell their homes and move into a big house in Lichfield, Staffordshire, converting the downstairs into a nursery and moving into the upstairs flat. Most of the group had been teachers.

1998: John Woodward launches Busy Bees childcare vouchers.

2000: Busy Bees secures £50m from private equity company Gresham Trust. Buys Copperbeech Day Nurseries, St Albans, and Tibbitots Day Nurseries, Lancashire, amid other acquisitions.

2002: Busy Bees buys the Kindercare group of ten nurseries.

December 2006: The largest daycare provider in the world, ABC Learning Centres, buys Busy Bees nurseries and its childcare voucher business for £71m.

August 2007: Busy Bees buys Leapfrog Day Nurseries for £31.2m to become the UK's largest private nursery group.

January 2008: Busy Bees buys TLC hospital nursery chain.

March 2008: ABC puts the voucher business up for sale after the debt-ridden company plunges into a shares crisis, which saw A$755m (£360m) wiped off its value in one day.

July 2008: Fraught by financial problems, ABC puts Busy Bees nurseries up for sale.

November 2008: ABC goes into receivership and administration.

June 2009: Busy Bees founders buy back 'substantial' shares from ABC receivers, aided by financial backing from Knowledge Universe, the largest for-profit education and training company in the US, which becomes the majority shareholder.

December 2010: John Woodward launches a new childcare and employee benefits company, Busy Bees Benefits.

July 2011: Busy Bees acquires three Q Day Nurseries.

January 2012: Buys Early Years Childcare's nine nurseries.

August 2012: Acquires Just Learning's 71 nurseries, including Careshare and Nunu brands, bringing market share to 2.8 per cent.

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