Interview - Clare Roberts, chief executive of Kids Planet nursery group

Monday, August 19, 2019

Kids Planet is piloting an initiative in one of its nurseries to give funded-only children a free packed lunch on the days they don’t attend

WHAT WAS THE REASONING BEHIND THE FREE LUNCH PILOT?

More and more in deprived areas, we’ve noticed that families are relying on food banks. Many have said it’s a struggle to provide food.

It was one of our area managers’ idea to offer a free packed lunch to families whose children are taking up just the 15 funded hours when they are not attending nursery. We don’t charge these parents for food when their children attend as many would struggle to pay.

As many of our nurseries in deprived areas are large settings, we can offset that cost.

We’ve chosen to pilot the initiative in the Salford setting as it has the highest number of funded places. If it is successful, we will look to roll it out to the other five nurseries in the area.

HOW ARE YOU FUNDING THE INITIATIVE?

We make daily meals for the children attending the nursery, so providing a few extra isn’t a huge cost and we can absorb it.

The packed lunch consists of sandwiches, fruit, breadsticks and a homemade dip. Families have to pick up the lunch from the setting, which works for many as they have other children who are at school, so they are out anyway.

The nursery is also based within the community so families can drop in when they pass by.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

As well as the obvious benefits – feeding children a nutritious lunch – the packed lunch also demonstrates to parents healthy alternatives they can give to their children. A lot of deprived families end up buying unhealthy food as it can work out cheaper.

The initiative is also a good way to engage with our families.

THE BUSINESS IS RAPIDLY GROWING, AND YOU RECENTLY ACQUIRED A CHAIN OF THREE SETTINGS – WHAT ELSE IS IN THE PIPELINE?

We have an acquisition, a standalone setting that is due to complete this month, and another next month. Also, in September we will be opening a new, purpose-built setting in Worsley, Greater Manchester.

We plan to have 50 nurseries by the end of the financial year, and in the next five years a total of 100. We will continue to buy existing nurseries as well as open purpose-built settings; however, we plan to move further south of where we currently operate. We started out with nurseries in the North-West as it was easier for me having a young family. However, now we have created clusters of nurseries that are supported by a senior management team.

We wouldn’t continue to expand if we didn’t have a handle on quality. We always act proactively in terms of infrastructure of the business when adding settings – we have a massive head office team.

WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT EXPERIENCE OF THE CHILDCARE MARKET?

Since local authorities reviewed their funding rates, the childcare property market has improved.

The only difficulty is the continual increase to the living wage. To ensure we meet costs, we review our fees annually. In terms of recruiting, we haven’t experienced any issues as we have our own training academy. We make sure we can train our own talent. We have never used agency staff.

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