Janet Ward has created a ‘home from home in the heart of the community’ since she opened Holmsdale Manor in 1986. In the three decades she has been in charge, Janet has been a hands-on manager, regularly to be found on the nursery floor, and consistently dedicated to providing a high-quality, homely environment for supporting children’s development. She has been the driving force behind the nursery ethos, which focuses on outdoor learning, purposeful physical play and reducing, re-using and recycling, as well as engaging with the local and wider community.
Janet has created an ‘eco-nursery’, in which food scraps are composted for use in the vegetable gardens, recycled materials are used by the children for art, craft and construction, and installations such as the sensory garden and water walls are based around reused and recycled materials, from leftover tiles and other building materials to parts of cots and even old wellies.
She feels strongly that outdoor learning is crucial to children’s well-being and holistic development, and ensures the development of the setting reflects this. The environment she has developed includes a nature pond, orchard, story garden, sensory garden, fairy dell, living willow structures, vegetable plots, on-site and off-site Forest Schools, and several pets, including two rescue donkeys.
Ofsted commented on the eco-friendly approach Janet fosters at the nursery, saying children at Holmsdale ‘engage in a vast range of activities that promote their awareness of sustainability and caring for their environment. They engage in recycling on a grand scale and use many found and natural resources in their wonderful art and imaginative craft activities.’
Ofsted added that ‘inspired leadership and management drives the continuous improvement that takes place’ at the nursery, and emphasised Janet’s role in this in particular, saying ‘the owners place a great emphasis on professional development and invest heavily in training and mentoring for all staff. This is borne out in the incredible practice evident every day in every part of the provision.’
Janet supports staff to carry out research on topics including Makaton, sensory gardens, the impact of Forest School on creativity and free play, and the importance of play.
Staff at Holmsdale are also encouraged to support other early years settings by working as initial mentor practitioners alongside improvement advisors to help develop practice, or to support language development in other settings as early language lead practitioners. Since funding cuts have reduced training opportunities, Janet has worked hard to minimise the impact of this by hosting training sessions at Holmsdale and inviting other settings to attend.
One of the pieces of research Janet has supported is the Raising Early Achievement in Literacy (REAL) project, in conjunction with Cathy Nutbrown and Sheffield University. Based on this research, the nursery has facilitated parent workshops based on supporting early literacy skills at home.
Holmsdale has been described as feeling like an ‘extended family’, not only due to its warm, informal and nurturing approach, but also because several parents and staff are past pupils, and Janet’s grandchild attends the nursery and her daughter is a member of staff.
Nursery parents added that at Holmsdale, ‘it is very clear that there is an attitude that “only the best will do” and, as parents, that means more than words can describe’.
St Albans Pre-School, Macclesfield
In 27 years, Elaine has seen over 2,000 children go through St Albans pre-school and has helped the setting go from informal playgroup to ‘one of Macclesfield’s best-loved pre-schools’.
Each morning she arrives an hour early to set up the room and posts photos on Facebook to involve and inform parents.
The pre-school is in school grounds and Elaine works hard to liaise with the school, helping lead the choir each week. She also organises mascots for Macclesfield Town matches, promoting the pre-school in the community and even securing the donation of an interactive whiteboard from a group of footballers with fond memories of attending themselves.
Elaine operates an open door policy for her 11 staff and encourages training.
She shares her enthusiasm and good practice in cluster groups and hubs she co-ordinates, and sits on an advisory panel for Cheshire East Funding.
Testimonials include, ‘Elaine Mercer is the heart and soul of St Albans Pre-School’ and, ‘She makes managing a pre-school look easy!’
For an individual whose long service and dedication in day-to-day work with young children are truly inspiring