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Anne de Zoysa founded nursery group Bringing Up Baby in 1989 after finding a lack of suitable childcare facilities for her two-year-old son in her area. Along with another parent, Ms de Zoysa set up the first Bringing Up Baby nursery in Shepherd’s Bush and the group now has four nurseries in the London area.
With a background in psychology, Ms de Zoysa has worked in Great Ormond Street and had a career as a primary school teacher.
“My son was two and I was heavily pregnant when our first nursery was set up in Shepherd's Bush. The nursery opened in June however it was in September when it really grew in numbers. When it first opened, our children went there along with just a few others,” Ms de Zoysa said.
She continued: “We appointed a manager but had a very hands on role with things such as recruitment and I only took two weeks of maternity leave. Looking back opening a nursery in the midst of having children was quite interesting but being a mother was of course OK when going to work was a nursery!”
Bringing Up Baby has since moved on from the Shepherd’s Bush nursery but Ms de Zoysa says keeping the group small was a conscious decision. She said: “People ask why only four nurseries but we are not a chain, we are a small caring group.
“There are only four nurseries in our small group because we are very picky about each nursery which we open. We make sure it’s a good location; each one has its own playground and dropping off zone, which for London is rare. Safety is a concern and all nurseries are in a prime location for good transport links.
“Our real priorities are giving quality care and not just the number of children in our nurseries. What is also important is supporting parents who want the best for their children and helping them by ensuring they are supported in bringing up their children.
“Bringing language in is also an important element to our nurseries because we believe children are never too young to learn a language. Our first nursery was helped to be opened by our local MP Clive Soley who helped us a lot with local planning and other key aspects during the initial opening period as he lived on the same street as the nursery. His child also went to the nursery and was one of the first children to attend.”
Since entering the childcare sector, Ms de Zoysa described the many changes it has undergone acknowledging the sector has made improvements but faces new problems in the delivery of childcare provision.
She explained: “We have experienced more people entering the business, it is seen as very lucrative sector and we have seen these very large groups emerge in the market.
“We don’t have the same relationship with Ofsted that we used to and similarly with Early Years and Social Services. Ofsted have a lot more complaints to deal with and have their own issues and challenges which take up their time. There is less funding and more training restraints which has led to less courses on offer. I hear that sometimes staff want to take part in training courses but they are full before they have even found out about the opportunity. It was nice when nurseries had more support from Ofsted.”
Bringing up Baby employees have also changed over time with Ms de Zoysa noting an increase in men and apprenticeships entering the industry.
She said: “There are more apprenticeships now which is good and we have them in our nurseries. One thing we need to consider is the level of support they need during the apprenticeship. We do have more men now entering the sector. We have one man working in three of our nurseries and my operations manager is a man, something that was definitely not as common when we opened our first nursery.”
The nursery group found said the most recent changes to the sector include the increasing importance of technology noting “the possibilities it holds can be extremely daunting, both positive and negative.”
Ms de Zoysa, has also noticed more European families using her childcare services. She said: “I have noticed a lot more Europeans coming and especially more French people coming to the nursery. “This is because there are lots of French people living in London but also they feel welcomed by the French element of the nurseries because I am half French.”
Ms de Zoysa noted the recession has impacted the way families are able to continue accessing childcare services. She said: “The recession has also been a huge change. We have seen a higher turnover of parents and have more regularly seen parents unfortunately losing their jobs. I have seen more mothers wanting to stay at home but having to go back to work when their children are still very young. The choice to go back to work for them seems to be less of an option now.”
Reacting to the new Early Years Teacher Status due to be introduced in September she said it will be “Great to get more qualifications and good if managers take this on board, and some of mine have, but it is tough.”
The group owner highlighted a number of factors presenting a challenge including the difficulties staff will have to study on top of full time work, and the extra funding nurseries will need to find to pay staff members with the status requiring higher salaries.
Ms de Zoysa also said competition from schools will create challenges due to the shorter hours and longer holiday schools offer employees compared to working in a nursery.
Ms de Zoysa also commented:“Having the qualification does not necessarily translate to better practices so no guarantee. However the rest of Europe adopts this and salaries tend to be higher.”
Making a difference
Ms de Zoysa, who is half Sri-Lanken, spent three weeks in the country following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami which devastated thirteen countries and left two million people homeless. During her time in the country she organised the opening of a girl’s refuge and continues to have active links with it as well as making regular visits to the country.
Ms de Zoysa said: “My background in Great Ormond Street has made me want to give back and find ways to allow ourselves to find and help those in need. Visiting Sri-Lanka was an eye opener but I saw some amazing things, both good and bad, during the three weeks I was out there. The work I did has links with my background in psychology as we found a lot of children affected by the disaster couldn’t express themselves through words.
“As well as play therapy children also benefitted from drawing to show their feelings as it is very expressive and helped children who had survived to express how they were affected.
“It is not well known but although people had survived the disaster they had such psychological breakdowns that there was a high number of people committing suicide. We are working with children to help them understand and get over the appalling disaster.”
Ms de Zoysa has just finished being part of the judging panel of the annual Nursery Management Today magazine Power 20 awards naming Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, as the most influential person in childcare in 2014. She has judged on the panel every year the awards have taken place and has been involved with the magazine since it launched 13 years ago.
Bringing up Baby has just celebrated its 25th years providing care for children in London by holding tea parties in each individual nursery for children staff and parents to attend.
“We had a larger celebration for the 20th anniversary where we hired a venue for dancing and drinks which had speeches and all staff were invited along. My children, to their embarrassment, were the people who cut the cake at the event, and many people from the industry came along,” Ms de Zoysa said.
Bringing Up baby Nurseries are located in Brentford, Clapham, Kentish Town and Hammersmith.