WITH the Scottish Government committed to supporting a massive increase in the provision of free childcare the experience of two entrepreneurs suggests officials need to make it easier for people to develop the nurseries that will be required.

Name:

Nicola Simpson and Caroline Freeman.

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Age:

42 and 38.

What is your business called?

Fenton Barns Nursery Ltd.

Where is it based?

Fenton Barns, near North Berwick in East Lothian.

What services does it offer?

We are an independent, one-off private nursery with a strong ethos on outdoor learning and healthy lifestyles. The children spend an average of 80-90 per cent of their day outdoors, all year round and come rain or shine; climbing trees, fire building, doing transient art, running free, and taking part in imaginative play.

To whom does it sell? We take all ages from three months until children go to school. Most children start around one year old. People come from all over the county to the nursery.

What is its turnover?

£425,000.

How many employees?

We currently have 19 members of staff, most permanent and some part time. The turnover of staff has been very low since we opened five years ago. We have employed a lot more staff than we initially planned for as a result of managerial, office and outdoor learning developments.

When was it formed?

We opened in August 2012.

Why did you take the plunge?

Between us we have a background in charity work, business management, Occupational Therapy and children’s development, which we felt was a good skill mix for two directors to set up a children’s nursery. We are passionate about childcare and learning in the outdoor environment. We both had very young children at the time and felt there was a gap in the market for this provision in East Lothian. Those two children were the first through the doors and are now thriving at primary school! Healthy lifestyles – being outdoors as much as possible and eating homemade meals using locally and on site grown produce is key to our ethos. We have been friends since we were children ourselves and wanted our children and others to experience happy and exciting times!

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was, and still am, a director of the company which runs and owns the farm at Fenton Barns on which the nursery is built. I play a key role in developing the outdoor area and working closely with the practitioners in what they need. I previously established and worked for Countryside Learning Scotland, a registered Scottish charity which reconnects children with the countryside.

Caroline was, and still is, an occupational therapist for the NHS. She has worked with children of all ages, but has a keen interest in the developmental stages of children.

We both feel that our varied background brings an essential mix of skills to the directors’ role in the business.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We worked closely with the support of our local Business Gateway for support, and accessed a start-up loan through East Lothian council.

What was your biggest break?

Creating the opportunity to further expand our outdoor space to include a large woodland area with storage, a firepit, large ‘loose parts’ area and ‘construction site’ as well as a covered sand area.

What was your worst moment?

Managing parent expectations around our opening date when working with planners and regulators – we got there in the end but it was stressful for parents and us!

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The happy children and the feedback we get from parents. We both love going into the nursery and spending time with all the children and staff. It is a great way to reflect on why we have done this and how we can support the team moving forwards.

What do you least enjoy?

We strive to be unique and personal which means we have consciously limited our size. This can lead to challenges with managing the waiting list. Timings can also be a challenge – when we wave off our leavers each summer that doesn’t necessarily coincide with when the new starts are ready to join us!

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We are committed to continuing to improve and develop the service in line with international developments for outdoor learning opportunities.

What are your top priorities?

Safety, happiness, confidence, enjoyment and outdoor opportunities for all our children and staff.

What single thing would most help?

Further funding for developing the outdoor learning opportunities. We and the staff have so many ideas of how to develop the space even more.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

We work with other nurseries locally and collectively we feel that it’s key that all information communicated from Government to us, and vice versa, is up to date. The outdoor learning opportunities and training for staff are changing monthly at the moment and we need Government to help small and medium size businesses like ours when it comes to keeping up with, and informed of, these changes.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Every child and family are different and it is key they all feel listened to and we are meeting all the children’s individual learning needs.

How do you relax? We love the outdoors and spending time with family and friends.