What made you come back to the sector after selling up?
I reluctantly sold Caring Daycare (Rosevale Holdings) in 2014 because I had some personal health issues, but I am now all clear. I loved the 15 years I was involved with early years care and education, building professional teams and growing the company. Delivering quality childcare for working mums and dads is very satisfying, especially when you achieve that Ofsted recognition of Outstanding.
What changes have you noticed to the early years sector since your return?
Increasingly you see the major providers extending their networks, but large numbers of nurseries make it a real challenge to maintain consistent quality. I am a fan of strong regional groupings where caring and committed owners can be closely involved in the running of their nurseries and make sure the very best care is delivered for every child every day.
The other major dynamic working its way through the sector is the 30 hours extended entitlement. As we all know, in principle it is a great idea, but the implementation at local level feels inconsistent, underfunded and a burden on providers. It should be so much simpler.
The same applies to the voucher system changes, which seem to increase barriers for parents instead of making their access to affordable childcare more straightforward. Recruiting and retaining the best practitioners has always been a challenge, and with Brexit on the horizon now, I am concerned that this will only get more difficult.
What is the plan with the new nursery group?
We will continue to explore further regional expansion in the West Sussex and Surrey areas. We have no fixed ambition, other than to operate the market leader for quality childcare in each location. Cranbrook Day Nurseries is a private group majority-owned by Chris Holmes, with myself in a guiding chairman role. We don’t need to grow and will only take on new nurseries if they closely fit our quality criteria.
You recently acquired Elan Nurseries – will you be making any changes to the settings?
They have been developed over a number of years and the previous owners had the foresight to equip them with a core of Community Playthings resources, which is great. But the decoration and the overall ambience was more ‘designer’ than child-friendly, so we are investing in refurbishing all the nurseries to make them brighter, happier, ‘smiley’ places, orientated around the needs of the children themselves.
The teams are well qualified, with long service and are effectively led, and we will build on this through ensuring our values of uncompromising commitment to the very best childcare become part of the culture across the expanded collection.
Later in the year, Chris and I will consider if there may be some benefit in renaming the nurseries in a more child-friendly way, but it is not a priority at the moment.