John Woodward: A life championing early years

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of John Woodward and we send our condolences to his family and friends.

One of the founders of Busy Bees and an industry giant, John worked tirelessly to better the sector as much as possible and we will all miss his enthusiasm and drive.

In March, John attended the NMT Nursery, Estate, Acquisition & Expansion Forum. Although he was battling his health, John remained positive and he reflected on his time in the industry and how drastically the sector has changed…but mostly for the better.

John ran a multi-million pound nursery and childcare voucher business, but in his speech he noted that it had very humble beginnings.

An ordinary group of people joined together as a team and bought their first nursery which opened in 1983. Like many in the business, John wanted a great nursery education for his children.

While John admitted that none of the founders had done anything like this before, he did have a career that already showed his incredible levels of empathy and kindness. Prior to Busy Bees, he taught children with behavioural difficulties stating in his speech that he felt if these difficulties were addressed in the early years, children would be better prepared for later life.

Technology, costs and accessibility are all changing the way the nursery sector evolves. There was barely a presence when John first came to the scene and he always looked for more ways to help children and also their parents enjoy and afford an early years education.

The ever-increasing childcare costs moved John to launch the Busy Bees Childcare Voucher scheme in 1998. Now called Busy Bees Benefits, the scheme delivers vouchers to over 16,500 employers across the UK, spanning from smaller businesses to national organisations.

During the last part of his speech he commented on the continuing problems with cost and support from the Government. However, he also highlighted that we can’t always wait on the Government to do the right thing and as a sector we must be the force of change. John certainly was that.

Marg Randles, another founder of Busy Bees shared this message:

‘It is with deep sadness that we advise you of the passing of our dear friend and founder, John Woodward.

‘Former CEO and one of the six founders, Johns vision to offer quality care and education to children saw the birth of Busy Bees. His desire to offer children and families the very best saw Busy Bees grow from a small UK based operation to an international business, recognised across the world for delivering excellence.

‘Throughout his career John dedicated his time, knowledge and entrepreneurial leadership with the intention of making a difference in the lives of others, evidenced by sector changing advances such as the voucher scheme and workplace benefits.

‘Thousands of children who have attended Busy Bees have received the best start in life, and they will always form part of John’s legacy. John, we are all better because we knew you.’

Andy Morris, chairman, Little Garden Day Nurseries added:

‘One of the last silver backs of the industry, my sympathies to the family and friends and all the employees.

‘I have known John for 17 years and we had tried to buy each other’s business several times as the business changed over the years. Also, we were part of the large provider group.

‘When you met John, you really had to step your game up as he was smart and extremely knowledgeable. He was a man on a mission always driving forward.

‘He was one of the founders and liked to change and the voucher business, amongst others, was an example of his vision. John and I did not always agree but he had passion and pride.

‘I met him in March this year and thanked him for what he had achieved and what had done for childcare, and he was still fighting as always. I raised a glass to him last night and thanked him for the journey and for making me try harder.

‘I will always smile when I think of him. Be safe on your next Journey John.’

The sector has lost an incredibly hard-working and passionate leader.

 

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