Case study

Early years providers: how to respond to changing needs

Three early years settings that are adapting to change and using new techniques to run a sustainable childcare business.

children at a nursery

Responding to changing demand to increase occupancy

Mona Majed manages the Marsham Street Community Nursery, which is part of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), a social enterprise with 38 nurseries across the capital. By being aware of changing demand and using space cleverly, Marsham Street has been able to increase its occupancy rates.

Marsham Street and all LEYF nurseries record details of all parent enquiries, children’s dates of birth and the reasons for children leaving the nursery.

Using this data, Mona noticed that the nursery’s waiting list for under-2s was growing longer, and an increasing number of parents were making enquiries about places for younger children. She also saw that pre-school children were moving onto school at a younger age.

The nursery was keen to take on more of the under-2s on the waiting list, to meet this shift in demand, but was held back by the size of the baby room. LEYF decided to convert a room that they had been letting to the local council into a second baby room.

Future-focused marketing

LEYF began marketing the new room as soon as the building work began, informing parents that there would soon be new spaces available for under-2s. As a result, the room was full within a month of it opening.

Mona is confident that the new baby room will also increase occupancy across the whole setting over the longer term as the babies progress to the toddler and pre-school rooms. When the current pre-schoolers move on to school in September 2017, the nursery will have a cohort of younger children ready to take their places.

Marsham Street is very flexible about the age when children progress from one room to another to maximise occupancy and to provide childcare that suits their changing developmental needs.

A sustainable early years setting that’s flexible to change

Funfishers is a charity in York that offers out-of-school care, playgroups and holiday clubs. As an ‘early implementer’, the setting is already offering 30 hours of funded childcare for certain families. Lesley Calvert, the manager of Funfishers, says that an openness to change has been essential to Funfishers’ sustainability over the past 10 years.

Working with childminders to increase versatility

When Funfishers first opened to pre-school children in 2007, they were surprised by how much demand there was for places for younger children. Since then, they have welcomed children as young as 9-months-old.

Funfishers also partners with local childminders to offer ‘blended childcare’, where parents combine 2 or more different forms of childcare. At Funfishers, childminders drop off children at the start of the day and pick them up at the end of their session. This adds further versatility for parents, and allows childminders to care for more children since more of their day is freed up.

Introducing pre-booked late sessions

Shifting parental demand has also affected the sessions Funfishers offer. Recently, they have introduced pre-booked late sessions until 6.30pm. This is aimed at parents working further out of town, who had been regularly picking up their children late and getting fined. This had also affected the staff, who would take it in turns to stay late with the children. The introduction of late sessions meant that Lesley could plan her rotas around pre-arranged later pick-ups, factor this into staff wages and save parents late fees.

A nursery adapting to the needs of a local community

The Play Den is a family-owned nursery in Swindon, owned and managed by Kate Adams. As an ‘early implementer’, the nursery is already offering 30 hours of funded childcare for certain families and is adapting to meet its challenges.

Running Saturday sessions

As working patterns change, parents need childcare beyond the working week. This observation has led Kate Adams to provide childcare on Saturdays as part of the Play Den’s 30 hours of funded childcare offer. This aims to support local shift workers at the Great Western Hospital in particular.

Kate calculated exactly how much it would cost per hour to open the premises on a Saturday, including things like utility bills. She only went ahead once she had identified the number of funded children necessary to make it cost effective, taking into account staffing ratios.

Play Den are now holding Saturday sessions which are proving popular. Provisionally, Play Den will offer an 8am to 2pm session. Kate acknowledges that if the setting is to be of use to as many families as possible, it must offer parents more fixed sessions than it has done before. She identifies this as one of the biggest challenges she faces as a setting manager. If a parent wants an additional hour outside of a fixed session, the nursery will then charge for that hour.

Partnering with peers

In January 2016, Kate found the perfect setting for Play Den, but the owner of the site was reluctant to lease only a portion of it to the nursery. Kate approached her local authority to find out if others were also hunting for premises. She collaborated with Swindon’s Autistic Resource Centre and Uplands Educational Trust to take over the whole site, since the owner was more comfortable leasing the full property.

Kate acknowledges that the planning process was challenging, but is a firm believer in the mutual benefits of partnership. She suggests building up relationships with the community and getting to know your setting’s catchment area. You can support local events, like taking the children to the local primary school’s nativity play, or attending cake sales and book signings. This helps you develop these relationships and become part of the community. This also has business benefits beyond supporting the local community. Organisations are often happy to return the favour - for example, the local primary school has offered to loan Play Den its minibus and driver for upcoming trips.

Kate has also set up a group for pre-school setting managers to meet regularly and share ideas and challenges. “If you form links with other settings, you can lean on each other,” says Kate. This can be invaluable if a setting loses a staff member unexpectedly, for example.

Published 1 December 2016