Chris Rolfe

Nurseries are a real lesson in reaching communities

As the largest registered provider of church-based childcare in the UK, Elim nurseries have a huge impact on their communities. Jemma Maslen explains more.

"What children love about nursery is the friendship, care and routines," says Jemma Maslen. "When they’d been locked down for weeks, to go back and play with their friends was the best thing ever."

Jemma was talking to us last December as England emerged from another national lockdown.

Jemma heads up Elim’s network of 19 Ofsted-approved English nurseries, which is in the top 25 of all childcare providers in England by size. We asked her about the impact of the past year upon them and the families they serve.

"The pandemic forced all but three nurseries to close at some point during 2020," Jemma explains. But she is excited that 2021 offers fresh opportunities as the UK attempts to adopt a ‘new normal’.

One huge strength to build on that was evident during lockdown is the positive impact Elim nurseries have on their communities.

"We have one nursery, Little Treasures at Westcliff-on-Sea, and they’re famous in their area for working well with children with additional needs. They’ve built up a reputation of being really good at looking after and educating the children and caring for the families too.

"When the local authority becomes aware of a child with additional needs that must be met through childcare, our nursery is the first place they ring."

This service proved vital when the UK went into lockdown in March 2020. Little Treasures stayed open to accommodate the children of key workers.

"Other nurseries did likewise", Jemma adds.

"We have a nursery in Canning Town that mainly caters for the Lithuanian community there, but also Polish and Russian-speaking children, and families from all over central and east London. They stayed open through the pandemic because a lot of the parents are key workers who needed childcare.

"When the lockdown was relaxed last summer, other nurseries were able to help their communities too. Lakeside in Southport, for example, stepped in to offer frazzled parents respite by opening for an additional week before the school holidays began."

The majority of nurseries were not able to stay open, however, and many furloughed or cash-strapped parents withdrew their children, piling pressure on nurseries’ finances and recruitment plans.

As Jemma discusses her plans for the coming year, this is one area she will focus on. "It’s about supporting the managers in helping them market their nurseries and build their numbers back up," she says.  

For her, recovering from the challenges of the pandemic is also about supporting managers in working together to move forward.

"An Ofsted inspector told me it was great that our nurseries can draw on each other’s expertise. I want to build a bank of resources for managers. That way, we can work together to be more efficient.

"We’re facilitating managers working together based on their strengths too. Some are close to each other and meet to share experiences and expertise.

"It’s trickier for others because we’re spread from Southport to Plymouth, but we’re all familiar with video conferencing  so it’s easier."

Jemma is also excited about a statutory curriculum set for launch in September.

"It will offer a lot more freedom to support children’s learning and development. With the new curriculum coming in, it’s a good time to evaluate where we’re going, what we’re doing, and the visions and values of our nurseries."

And with plenty of positive feedback from local schools, authorities, and Ofsted, Jemma is confident her 2021 plans have firm foundations to stand on.

"We get good feedback, and it shows that as a nursery provider, we are meeting the needs of our communities and preparing children for their next step in learning."


Working together to share good practice

Elim nurseries are not just having a positive influence on children, but on the childcare community too.

“One of the ways Elim is having an impact is by sharing the good practise we’ve built up,” says Jemma.

“We had articles from one of our nurseries published in Nursery World’s October and November issues and a case study written by Pacey, one of the professional childcare organisations.

“We have a similar structure to the Salvation Army so my counterpart there and I are working together to share ideas too. We are having a positive impact and sharing what’s great about Elim.”


How we’re going above and beyond

Cygnets Pre-School, Wellingborough
Cygnets Pre-School fosters a sense of community in its deprived area by building friendships, supporting those with mental and physical disabilities and helping struggling families. This includes food parcels, flexibility over nursery sessions, building relationships with parents, supporting children with additional needs and even inviting parents to help decorate floats for the local carnival.

“We’ve been recognised as often going above and beyond, giving up personal time to help people, for example with understanding and completing forms if English isn’t their first language or they struggle with reading,” says nursery manager Tracy Nicholls.

Little Treasures, Westcliff-On-Sea
Little Treasures’ Bumps & Babies club supports parents of babies with lunch, a friendly community and advice. The nursery also works with the local authority to help children with speech and language delays, attends meetings with social services, offers breastfeeding support and works closely with schools to ensure children have a smooth transition when they move up from nursery.

“We live in an area with high deprivation so we also use our deprivation fund to ensure children can access all activities possible for them,” says manager Charlee Potter.

Foundations Day Nursery, Selly Oak
Foundations Day Nursery mainly serves parents based at Birmingham University and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and has built a reputation for quality education.

“Having a nursery within the church gives parents a caring ethos along with a sense of security for their children,” says nursery manager Janet Parker.


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