"At the weekend, I can't wait to go back to work!" - The Preston nursery which specialises in going the extra mile
Having studied psychology at university and always harboured an interest in child development, when Cath Bell decided on a change of career, opening a nursery made sense.
“I’d done child-minding, which was wonderful, but I wanted to do more,” says Cath, 53. “So I opened the nursery at the age of 29 and invested everything I had in it.”
That was back in 1996 and, since then, Small Wonders Day Nurseries has not only built a reputation for professional childcare with a personal touch, but has also opened a second branch - Small Wonders Too. Helping nurture hatchlings into budding ducklings, the nursery cares for children between the ages of three months and five years old. And they love every minute of it.
“There’s real pride in the work and we take the time to get to know people,” explains Cath, who says her parents’ support - her 86-year-old dad is still known as ‘Poppa’ to hundreds of kids in Preston - has also been vital. “When someone has come to us as a little baby and we’ve watched them grow up right through to school, seeing them leave can be hard but it’s so rewarding.”
Preston-born Manager Emma Ainsworth joined Small Wonders as a 16-year-old apprentice and has watched the nursery develop over time with delight. “I absolutely love the job - at the weekend, I can’t wait to get back to work!” says Emma, now 34. “Knowing you’re having a positive impact makes everything worth it; we even get people who we used to look after coming in with their own kids now.”
Providing kids with a nurturing and stimulating environment in which to learn, one of the key aspects to Small Wonders is the familial atmosphere fostered in no small part by the fact that many members of staff have been with the nursery for years. In fact, Cath’s daughters Hope Olivia and Grace Murray Bell have not only grown up at the nursery, but now work there too.
“My mum started Small Wonders when me and my sister were little, so it’s like a second family and we know how much hard work she’s put into it,” says Hope, 26. “We’re the first step in kids’ learning journey and it’s a big thing for a parent to put their trust in us, so we do everything we can that we provide the best care possible.”
What’s more, given they’re in the business of caring for children, when Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign kicked off in October, the nursery - which has 22 members of staff and also offers before- and after-school care as well as holiday care - immediately signed up to help kids on free school meals access food over the school holidays.
“My mum’s always the first person to ask how she can help and the nursery has always been a safe-haven for families,” says Hope, who is from Fulwood and has worked at Small Wonders since 2016 whilst also studying for a degree and a Master’s. “Getting involved in the Marcus Rashford campaign was a no-brainer because we knew it would have a positive impact.”
Cath agrees. “Our first thought was ‘we’ll step up’,” she says. “I like to think we always go above and beyond and we’ll always do anything we can to help. People know they can trust us, and that’s the key word with children: trust.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has hit the industry hard.
“Financially, it’s been the toughest time ever and we’re still not out of it,” says Cath. “I don’t think people realise just how difficult it’s been; we’re down on numbers, which is worrying, and the childcare sector is in crisis because of the pandemic. There was just shock at the beginning of lockdown in March, and it was just a really strange and emotional time.
“Despite everything, the children have been absolutely incredible,” Cath adds. “They’ve had to get used to a completely new environment, which they’ve taken to like proper little troopers.
“It’s been a real learning curve.”