Interview - Stewart and Jeannie Pickering

The founding owners of kidsunlimited, who sold the business in 2008, are to open a new nursery group with McGoff Construction

Why have you returned to childcare after nearly a decade?

We still have the energy and vision to make a difference. Seven years ago, we were introduced to the McGoff construction group, who we subsequently worked with.

They recently contacted us to tell us about a site they have in Altrincham, Greater Manchester. The location is so good that they said they wanted to run a nursery there themselves and, knowing our background in the childcare sector, approached us about coming on board.

What is the plan with Back to the Garden Child Care?

The first nursery in Altrincham will open in September. We are currently in discussion about a couple more sites, but it is early days. At the moment we are working on branding and need to get staff in place and establish a curriculum.

With Back to the Garden Child Care, there will be a priority and emphasis on outdoor play. Children are now being introduced to technology at an early age and don’t go out to play as much as they used to. We want to get away from the technical age.

We are also looking at a model of Forest Schools and plan to bring training back in-house – we will be looking to recruit a training manager.

What about the design of the nurseries?

The design concept is the one we developed at kidsunlimited in the late 90s with pairs of ‘homebases’ working as mini nurseries within the centre. The pairs have shared facilities and the staff within each pair will work as a team, with obvious advantages of room layouts (quiet and busy) and under a unit leader. This gives great flexibility for opening and closing the rooms early and late in the day. Of course, each child will also be assigned a keyworker.

As the name suggests, there will be an emphasis on outdoor activities, including exploring science (Stewart was a science and maths teacher), growing plants, looking at wildlife and respecting the environment. The first location is away from main roads and close to countryside, including the National Trust’s Dunham Massey Hall.

In between exiting the sector and starting this new nursery venture, you opened an organic health business. How will you draw upon this experience?

We are designing nursery menus with our friends at The Garden café and juice bar in Hale. We have worked with the company before and respect their food policies. We will be using local, fresh and organic food and certainly no processed food. Growing children benefit from good nutrition and we can educate them at an early age to eat a diverse and well-balanced diet. There will be meat, but the emphasis will be on plant-based meals.

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