Early Years Leadership: pandemic pressures and future growth

Opening a business during a global pandemic would seem like a bit of a silly thing to do right? Well what if I told you I opened two? Downright ridiculous decision?

Maybe not….explains Kelly Hill, founder of Early Years Leadership and Codsall Community Nursery

A fortnight before the pandemic struck, we set up Early Years Leadership, a business designed to support leaders and managers across the early years sector. With a desire to provide a service that utilised our skills and experience, we started business planning in earnest, pooling our resources, contacting our connections and exploring all the ways we could provide a bespoke, unique and much needed service to nursery managers and owners.

As Covid-19 hit our country, we naively thought we would just have to stay home for a couple of weeks, maybe a month even, but this would be gone as quick as it came. How wrong were we!

As the virus took hold and more and more settings were struggling, we found ourselves more in demand than we could have imagined, but money was tight, nurseries were closing and no-one had even heard of the word furlough! So, we decided to offer our services for free. We zoomed till we could zoom no more. We had endless phone conversations and started sending our daily newsletters to keep our early years community up to speed with the ever-changing guidance. What was pinnacle to this newsletter was that we took the guidance, picked out the most important bits and explained how to implement this in real terms. Our experience as nursery professionals, managers and area managers allowed us to understand the challenges leaders were faced with and offer real, tangible solutions that could be implemented easily and quickly.

What drove us was passion for our wonderful sector and a true yearning to help leaders in their role. We connected with managers, deputies, owners and room leaders from across the country and did all we could to help, building a community that supported each other too. We built trusting relationships and got to know the sector, introducing managers to share their strengths and reach out for help when needed.

This led us to rebrand and convert from a limited company into a not-for-profit community interest company. We needed to start charging for our services in order to keep the business going but we wanted a business structure that allowed us to give back, and showed our community that our priority was them, not profit.

Meanwhile, one afternoon, I was on my daily exercise walk, mask on and hand gel in pocket, when I walked past our local council building and had a nosy at the plans for the building work taking place. It was a big rebuild, upgrading the building into a community hub. I noticed a new unit was available for rent, in a prime spot right at the front of the new hub. In passing I said to my partner….”That would make a cracking location for a nursery”. His reply came like a red rag to a bull, “you always say that and never do anything about  it.”

The next day I called the agents, went to see the space and the rest as they say is history. I’m not going to say it was plain sailing as there have been plenty of choppy waters to navigate. Friends and family thought I had lost my mind trying to open a nursery in a pandemic, when so many were closing and most people were working from home, but I knew the location was perfect and if I didn’t do it someone else would. I did my research, spoke to the LA sufficiency officer who agreed there was a gap in provision and spent hours completing forms, recruiting, jumping through hoops and going slowly grey while we set up Codsall Community Nursery.

I set myself a target to be open in Jan 2022 and with a huge final push and all hands on deck we managed it. We had Ofsted in for our registration visit 2 days before Christmas! The inspection visit was such a lovely experience. I was excited to share our beautiful setting, our enquiry led curriculum, our Values and ethos. The inspector even said she loved our enthusiasm and wished she could come back and do our inspection as she loved what we were creating.

We opened our doors in January and have built our nursery from the ground up. The awesome team of practitioners are the cornerstone of the provision we offer. Every day they come into the nursery ready to teach, play, care and above all else love the little people who come into our nursery.

The success of both businesses is down to one simple thing, passion.

A passion to provide a service that puts children and leaders at the very heart of everything we do. Of course, we need to make money, both businesses have overheads that need to be paid, but this is never at the forefront of our decision making. With every decision we make we ask ourselves, what is in the best interests of the children, the setting and the leader. What do we need to do to support this child, or nursery?

This passion to make a positive impact, to make a difference and to raise aspirations across the sector is what has enabled us to build two successful business in the middle of a global pandemic. When you find your passion and share it with others, you make a difference and that’s what Early Years Leadership strives to achieve every single day. 

Date Published: June 14, 2022