Laura's experience - Developing a business and supporting the community

I had been running a successful business, Theatre Tots, offering theatre classes for young people for many years and was connected with others running dance and martial arts activities for children locally. Our idea was to combine our skills and expertise – as well as work more efficiently by saving on costs of hiring multiple church halls and centres – to create a special place for children and families to access a range of activities and services – all under one roof. That was the vision that over the past four years has become Under1Roof – employing 80 staff from our bespoke premises in Royal Arsenal in Greenwich.

A vision for a children’s urban oasis

Children and families visiting us can use a wide range of activities and services at affordable prices. Families describe us as being “one big children’s urban oasis”. As well as running a nursery offering places for 150 children ranging from 3 months to 5 years, families can book a range of classes, therapies, private parties and holiday activities. Families enjoy visiting our play-café or tea, coffee or a family breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can even book a hair cut, visit our shop for toys and gifts or order a bespoke birthday cake. The idea was to help parents with all their essential needs so they don’t need to chase all over town but can access everything in one exciting place.

A warm and welcoming place to go

We’ve worked hard to provide a really warm and hospitable atmosphere at Under 1 Roof so that it is somewhere where families can come with a friend, the family, the kids or just parent/carer and baby together and feel welcomed. Be it first-timers or the most experienced, we all need company and somewhere to relax knowing the children are safe, happy and having fun. Often, parents make friends here as much as the children do, as conversations and laughter spontaneously occur.

Image source: Under 1 Roof Facebook page

Dedicated nursery daycare

We were delighted to receive an Ofsted good for the first inspection of our nursery in September 2017. The ethos of the nursery reflects the values of the Under 1 Roof business as a whole. We firmly believe it takes a village to raise a child and we celebrate that wherever possible. The children at our nursery benefit from a warm and nurturing environment with rooms dedicated to babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Our children can also access the activities throughout the centre and it is an amazing feeling to see how our children grow in confidence as they move around the centre – our children know that the day is bigger than just one room. They participate in drama sessions in our theatre, music classes in our music rooms, sports and language sessions and enjoy using our library and garden.

Rising to the challenge of lockdown

The nursery has been open through lockdown and I have been so proud to see how our staff have responded to the challenge of providing the vital high quality childcare and early years education that have helped children and families through a challenging time. My staff have taken such professional pride in their work – we have taken on additional vulnerable children through the pandemic and delivered food to some of our struggling families. Childcarers have really been the forgotten service through the crisis and I am so appreciative for all my staff have done – throughout our service has focused on putting the needs of the children at the heart of all we do.

We have only just received guidance that our soft play areas can start to open up again, so slowly we will be rebuilding our services and hoping to return to the thriving business that we had before Covid knocked us sideways.

Image source: Under 1 Roof Facebook page

Building back the business

It has been hard work to build the business and grow the different aspects of the service, but I believe the flexibility of our model provides us with some options to focus on for the future. We have faced some significant challenge along the road – raising the money for the initial investment, converting the huge building to suit the various aspects of our business, building a strong team who share our passion for exceptional early years childcare and education. We are braced for further challenge as we rebuild our business.

There have even been some unexpected positives from Covid. For instance, our children seem to prefer being dropped at the door – it has prevented some of those lingering goodbyes which can be painful for both parent and child! We’ve also developed deeper relationships with our parents as we’ve had to understand more about their working lives and how we can best provide a service to them.

I passionately believe that we have such a strong offer for local families and I am confident that we can come through the challenges ahead.