Before I was a childminder I worked with children and families in different roles in the public sector. I fell pregnant during a recession and effectively made myself redundant from the children's charity I was running. I wanted to ensure that I got to spend lots of time with my son and also socialise with him and teach him as well as earning money, therefore childminding felt like a wonderful career option. I only expected to do it for a year or so - that wasn't to be! I trained and registered during my pregnancy and enjoyed setting up my flat ready for our new chapter. I was still doing elements of my training once I'd had my son, so I found out from my own experience how tricky finding good childcare can be.
I was registered as a childminder in January 2013. I lived in a busy area in central Hackney, London. Within a couple of months, I had a waiting list and I had employed two Level 3 apprentices who turned out to be so fantastic that they're still with me today, 8 years later, as nursery room leaders. Taking on an apprentice as a childminder hadn't happened in Hackney before, so I worked with Hackney early years team to write an apprenticeship policy to support childminders employing apprentices as assistants. I enjoyed using my experience of mentoring young people, combined with childminding to enable best possible practice.
Childminding was an amazing and fun-filled journey for me, with so many daily challenges. It can be tiring, of course, but so much fun. I loved the opportunity to be outdoors most of the day and going on lots of fun trips together.
From 2013 to 2018 I worked with my two childcare assistants to deliver the best possible standards of home childcare that we could. We were and remain very committed. Together we cared for nine children a day between 1 to 4 years old.
We enjoyed working with the children very much and overall had a fantastic experience with parents who understood how hard we worked to get it right for them and their children. There were tricky moments too, however. We had one lady who didn't like paying fees which caused many issues, a mean neighbour who didn't like children and there were general misunderstandings from time to time that caused some stress and upset but we moved past it all ok.
During the time as a childminder, my assistants and I passed our Level 3 Educator diplomas and I qualified as a childcare mentor and forest school leader, and also completed a Masters in child and family psychology by attending evening classes at the Tavistock and Portman NHS clinic in west London. I knew that I'd want to move on being a childminder to something more like a nursery, and began preparing myself for meeting the challenges of being a nursery manager. I didn't anticipate just quite how difficult finding the right space would be.
Finding the right space
I searched high and low, going for lots of evening and weekend visits to what I hoped would be the right space. Every space we saw seemed to be a depressing basement with no outside space or such like. I did not want to compromise on our values for child and staff wellbeing, we needed natural light and outside space.
After much searching, we finally got a phone call inviting us to our local hospice to see if we would be interested in taking some space there. I was delighted to see airy light modern wings and could see a beautiful nature garden and an exciting adventure play space for older children.
A hospice is an amazing place to have a nursery. We have a thriving intergenerational project in place and I am currently writing a model of how to have a nursery in a hospice. We are close to the park and make full use of our outside space. We don't have a kitchen onsite but we've reached an arrangement with the hospice catering company. Effectively our children go out for lunch at the restaurant every day which is very fun and full of learning opportunities, too.
It's not easy to meet the costs of the space, and the lease negotiation was lengthy and difficult but now we are here and happy.
- Plan the transition of your childminding children over to nursery very carefully. Parents may feel very anxious about the change, which will need lots of foresight and managing. We carried out visits, made photo books and created memory boxes to support children in the process.
- If you're bringing staff over, as I did, to work with you in the nursery, ensure that they feel supported enough through the process. They may need additional training, so talking this through and being part of the changes will ensure they feel confident enough to roll out this new venture with you.
- Plan financially, it can cost more than you might think to set up and make sure you have relevant deposits etc. but you can save lots by planning ahead and being creative.
- Visit other nurseries, share your plans and get advice and tips as you form your own vision.
- If it's what you want, never give up! It took me years to make this dream a reality. It's not easy but it's worth it. It makes me proud to see children and families benefitting from what was once a tiny thought into a larger vision of what an ethical holistic nursery can be.