Nursery World Awards 2019: Individuals - Nursery Operations/Regional Manager of the Year

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Dawn Gibbons, Sunflower Group: North West

As operations director for the Sunflower group, Dawn Gibbons' role is to be truly the captain and anchor of the ship. Leading four nursery managers and creating a strong team of 60 committed inspirational practitioners, Dawn demonstrates exceptional vision and leadership, ensuring that her team live and breathe the culture and core values of the company.

Dawn has been a mentor and critical friend to all managers at the group's nurseries to ensure they are given the tools to be their best, and that they feel valued to achieve their goals and targets every day. She has created a welfare-conscious support programme which enables her team to feel valued and appreciated in all they do, while ensuring they do not feel overpowered by the pressures of their work life.

Her focus in-house has been on upskilling her team through bespoke training packages and creating unique roles such as the ‘people of determination co-ordinator’, who supports children with special educational needs.

Her quirky staff meetings and annual managers' training days are full of engaging learning and entertaining surprises which in turn encourage and enable staff to deliver their own motivational and fun meetings throughout the year.

She also organises social events for staff, families and children, such as the annual sunflower-growing competition, all of which ensure there are no barriers to anyone getting involved.

She has introduced many initiatives for families, such as a coffee-to-go facility and a parcel delivery service.

Dawn is dedicated to improving outcomes for children, not only in her own settings but in the wider community. She has worked alongside other local settings to offer affordable training to local childminders and professionals.

She also regularly allows her team to attend training during work hours and to volunteer in the community with the Home-Start programme, supporting local children with speech and language.

Dawn has a resourceful approach to providing open-ended additions to the nursery environment. When she opens her handbag to reveal her tools, she can create anything from a pallet, and has even been known to arrive at nursery with a boat – which she found in a skip – on the roof of her car!

Never missing an opportunity to develop the children's environment, Dawn singlehandedly restored the boat at weekends and positioned it in one of the nursery gardens, giving children hours of new learning opportunities.

Dawn is selfless and her approach to her team, families and children demonstrates this over and over again. She is an excellent role model and her caring attitude ensures no-one has to carry a problem alone, no team member misses an opportunity and every child in her care maximises every second of their early years.

As she often says herself, if you cut Dawn in half she is like a stick of rock, with Sunflower running right through. Her performance in her role is outstanding and her dedication to the company and all around her is admirable.


“Outstanding leadership and innovation with evident impact for staff, families and children

– judge



Amy Alderson, Tops Day Nurseries, South

Michelle Gascoigne, Tynemouth Nursery Group, North East


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