News

Dear Parents,

As we come to the end of what can only be described as a most extraordinary year, we would like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all our families for your support and cooperation, and to reflect upon the incredible work that has happened across Storal Learning in 2020.

We appreciate just how quickly and considerately you complied with all new operating procedures that came with COVID-19. It hasn’t always been easy – especially with Government guidance often arriving very late in the day and leaving us with more open questions than answers; but our dedicated nursery leadership teams have worked tirelessly to minimise any disruption and to keep parents and staff informed and updated throughout. Special thanks to our Area Managers and to our Central Support team for the many late evening and weekend Zoom calls as we tried to get ahead of each new announcement.

Over the coming days and weeks, we anticipate having to adapt at short notice to further announcements, but we draw continued strength and hope from your kindness and support, from the rapid progress being made with the vaccine roll-out, and above all, from the inspirational positivity of our children. Seeing the joy on their faces as they reunited with their friends and educators at nursery, after the first lockdown, was incredibly heart-warming and we will continue to do our utmost to provide them with consistency of care and the nurturing learning environments they deserve.

For now, we would like to share with you just a few highlights that we’re especially proud of during 2020.

Continued focus on Wellbeing

Parents who have been with us for over a year may recall that in 2019, we signed the ‘Time to Change Pledge’ – a commitment to change the way that we, as an organisation, think and act about mental health. With the profound changes that took place this year, never has a focus on mental health been more important. Since many of our staff teams were home-bound during the first lockdown, we quickly came up with the idea of creating a Staff Wellbeing pack that included information on how to practice self-care and provided opportunities to keep their brains active and learning.

As children started to return to nursery from June onwards, their wellbeing during these confusing and unsettling times took priority and we were so proud of how resilient and confident the children were across the board. Our Employee Wellbeing Champions at each site continued to do incredible work in supporting staff wellbeing, taking part in Early Years Wellbeing week and Christmas schemes to boost staff morale and to say a big ‘thank you’ for all that their colleagues do.

Curriculum enhancements and Staff Development

At the beginning of the year, we created the role of Childcare Development Manager to adopt a research-based approach to enhance the curriculum and pedagogical practices across Storal Learning. We were thrilled to offer the position to Hannah T, who was previously Area Manager for our South East nurseries.

During the summer, we successfully introduced an accelerated version of our ‘Rising Stars’ school readiness programme to support as many children as possible as they prepared for school in September under unusual circumstances. It has been wonderful to see an increase in confidence, focus and concentration, which evidences the impact this programme has on our children as they take this big step. We are excited that 2021 brings with it two new programmes – ‘Incredible Babies’, targeted at children under two and due to be rolled out in early 2021, and ‘Terrific Twos’, currently being trialled at a few nurseries and due to be rolled out closer to Easter. Not only do these programmes give staff additional tools in which to support your child’s development, but they also provide opportunities to focus on the particular needs of the children in a way that goes above and beyond our already high-quality everyday practice.

We are also pleased to have introduced multiple new methods of providing staff training over the last year as part of our commitment to developing and upskilling our teams. Our HR and Childcare teams at Central Support developed a relationship with The Skills Network, which has given us access to a wide list of funded courses, including level 3, 4 and 5 apprenticeships, which many of our staff are already undertaking. In addition, we introduced Flick training, which includes required training programmes for all staff, incorporating priority topics such as Safeguarding and Equality & Diversity, as well as dozens of optional e-learning modules. The feedback has been terrific!

Moreover, we’re proud that we are one of the few nursery groups to have two inset days a year, dedicated to staff training and development, a chance for staff to step away from their day-to-day activities and focus on key learning areas and team development.

Diversity & Inclusion

Racial tension across the globe continued to bring to our attention the importance of open conversations about diversity and inclusion within our society and within our company this year. In June, we published a blog post – ‘Let’s talk about race’ – to address how we, as early years professionals, support the cultural identity of our children and teach them about tolerance and respect for all. We also opened-up the conversation to our staff about their own experiences and how we can better create an inclusive culture. As part of this, we will be introducing a new role focusing on inclusion at each nursery in 2021 and hope that we can continue to learn and grow in this area, ultimately doing our very best for each other and the little lives we are influencing each day.

Awards and Recognition

We are delighted that Storal Learning was recognised by daynurseries.co.uk as a Top 20 Nursery Group for the second year running. The fact that this award is based entirely on parent feedback made us all feel especially proud and grateful.

In June, we hosted our inaugural Storal Awards ceremony over Zoom – a chance to acknowledge and celebrate team members who personify our values and behaviours and act as role models. We received hundreds of submissions from both staff and parents. Congratulations to Amanda, Jodie, Cheryl, Jack and Kerry, our winners on the evening. During the ceremony, we also took time to personally thank our teams of Early Years Heroes across the country. Nursery practitioners were rightly classified as Key Workers during the first lockdown, and every Thursday evening, when we clapped for carers, we also wholeheartedly clapped for our amazing teams.

 

Charity, Generosity and Community initiatives

While the news has a habit of focusing on the worst in society, this period has also showcased the very best in us, with countless small acts of kindness that have melted our hearts and reminded us of the importance of compassion, selflessness and a spirit of generosity. Thank you to Cook, the food retailer where a few of our parents work, for donating a full array of delicious meals for our children and staff at Ickle Pickles to enjoy; to Morrisons for donating enough Easter Eggs to last a lifetime; to the parent at Rocking Horse who donated such a generous quantity of hand sanitizer that we were able to share our supplies with parents and the local care home which the children used to visit before the virus struck. The list goes on and what it so clearly shows is that there is goodness to be found everywhere.

During the October half term, inspired by Marcus Rashford’s campaign, our team at Willow Tree Nursery in Clacton-on-Sea prepared 100 pack lunches a day for children on Free School Meals. We strongly believe that all children deserve to eat healthy, nourishing meals every day and that there is a strong link between nutrition and a child’s development.

Finally, to all our families who would like to give a little something back this Christmas period, we encourage you to donate to our Charity of the Year – Young Minds are the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health. A £15 donation supports a Parent Helpline volunteer to provide information and support to parents who are worried about their child’s mental health. A £30 donation will provide training for a Young Activist to have the skills and confidence to talk about mental health and support their peers and local community. We are sure you will agree that this is an ever more important issue. Donations can be made through our dedicated JustGiving page.

 

With that, we wish all our families a safe and Happy Christmas! Although it will be different this year, we hope you and your children are still able to create wonderful memories together.

Please do remember to complete the parent declaration form before nursery re-opens to help us keep nursery safe, and we look forward to seeing you in the new year!

 

Warm Regards,

Ash Grover & Varun Chanrai

Managing Directors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has now been a month since nurseries, schools and other educational settings were asked to close indefinitely to contain the spread of the Coronavirus.

Several nurseries in Clacton-On-Sea have closed their doors leaving only a quarter of providers open for children of key workers, including Willow Tree Nursery on Chingford Avenue.

Here we share the thoughts and experiences of some of the staff working on the frontline and what it is like running a nursery during a pandemic.

What are your thoughts and feelings about the current situation?

The situation itself is one we have never had. It is very surreal, but I take each day as it comes and try to have an optimistic outlook on the ‘here and now’ as opposed to worrying too much about what the future holds.

On a normal day we are now caring for only a handful of children as opposed to 140 depending on the day! The end of the week is a bit busier with some parents continuing with our after-school club.

Nursery staff are admittedly worried about caring for children of key workers for fear of contracting the virus, infecting themselves and their families. The concept of social distancing is not something children of such a young age can comprehend and adhere to.

What steps you are taking to protect yourself and the children?

We collect the children from the door and do not allow the parents past the foyer to minimise contact. The children and staff wash their hands as they come in and do so regularly throughout the day. We also monitor temperatures and avoid certain activities that involve too much contact. This doesn’t stop us from comforting a child if they need a cuddle.

We are constantly cleaning toys, surfaces and play areas, and are planning a deep clean before the nursery reopens as ‘normal’.

Though the majority of our team have been furloughed due to reduced attendance, there are always at least two members of staff caring for the few children we have in.We are also advising parents of safety precautions at home and regularly sharing any advice from Essex County Council or other agencies.

We have stopped wearing our uniforms to and from nursery, they go straight into a bag to be washed when arriving home. Also keeping social distancing guidelines outside of work.

What is keeping you going?

What keeps us going is knowing we are helping those who genuinely need it at this time and that the essential service we are offering is helping front line key workers to continue their incredible work.

We also find comfort in knowing our nursery children are able to stay in a familiar setting with familiar adults – not adding to their (or their parents) individual anxieties and stresses.

Working alongside incredibly supportive and hardworking staff helps, plus the kindness and appreciation shown by parents and colleagues with the odd delivery of gifts.

Personally – I have had a lot of support and guidance from Central Support staff at Storal Learning and my main source of support has definitely come from my Area Manager, who has been in daily contact and supported me in any which way she can. Keeping in touch with our families via Facebook and parent app has kept us going but we cannot wait to see all their faces once we reopen.

Dear colleagues,

Beneath the very visible impact that the COVID-19 crisis is having on our daily lives, these past few weeks have also precipitated a period of deep soul-searching – for us as individuals, as a society, and as an organisation. Amidst the intense, real-time decision-making that we’ve tackled on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis, we’ve also had to ask ourselves some deeper questions:

  • What really matters most to us?
  • How are we supporting the response efforts?
  • What does the future hold?

As individuals, we’ll have different responses to the questions above. That’s what makes us unique. But collectively we all form part of Storal Learning, an organisation which you, our staff, are the heart and soul of. As such we’d like to share with you some of our inner thoughts on the questions above.

To address what really matters most to us, and how we are playing our part to support the response efforts, actions speak louder than words, so let’s reflect on some of the actions we have taken across the country:

  • We are extremely proud to have kept 15 of our 20 nurseries open for key worker families and for vulnerable children. By providing fantastic care for the children of key workers, we are enabling doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, teachers and other emergency workers to go into work and play their essential role in keeping our country safe. The NDNA recently published figures showing that only half of all nurseries remain open for key worker children and we have managed to keep open 75%;
  • When the nursery and school closures were announced, we are proud that we acted quickly to reassure staff that we would pay their full wages for March, even before the Government’s Job Retention Scheme was announced, and before we knew which nurseries would remain open beyond 20th March;
  • We are proud that we have taken the stance not to charge non-eligible families any fees after 31st March and until the end of the closure period. Other settings and groups have taken a different approach, as I’m sure you’ve read in the news. We pass no judgement on their choices. These are exceptionally difficult times for businesses. We just did what we instinctively felt was fair and right;
  • We are proud that we took the decision to continue with our performance-linked pay review in April, despite the economic uncertainty. Moreover, we decided to honour our commitment to paying all Level 3 qualified nursery staff, who have performed in line or above expectations, a salary above the statutory minimum wage, and ensuring pay transparency for all our staff;
  • And congratulations to 11 of our colleagues across the organisation who have deservedly been promoted during the semi-annual promotion cycle, a signal of our continued commitment to career development, even at the toughest of times. We’ll be sharing these details with you in the coming days.

The past few weeks have also demonstrated that leadership comes in different forms across Storal. A nursery practitioner, whether furloughed or working at nursery, taking the initiative to read stories or make learning videos to spark the imagination of children at home has been a leader; a senior practitioner who has stepped in to run the nursery on behalf of the management team has been a leader; a manager who believes it is their duty to go into nursery every day, even when there are only 1 or 2 children attending, has been a leader; an Area Manager who skipped their child’s bedtime on many consecutive evenings early in the crisis to ensure that they could provide timely updates to staff and parents has been a leader; our Finance and HR team who have worked round the clock to ensure minimum financial disruption to staff and that payroll is run on time have been leaders.

Leadership is not about titles or age; it is about stepping up when instinctively you know your contributions, regardless of how small or big, will help your colleagues and those who we are responsible for – which for ALL of us includes, first and foremost, our children.

And amongst all our leaders who have stepped up during our country’s hour of need, we would like to extend particular admiration and gratitude to our colleagues on the front line who have continued to go into nursery, day-in-and-day-out, with a positive attitude and a profound sense of duty. You are true heroes. Every Thursday at 8pm, when we clap for our carers, we are also clapping for you!

Like it has for us, your mind may also have been oscillating between feeling very anxious to feeling completely inspired, at multiple times during this period. While we are all taking precautions to protect our physical health, please remember to give proper focus to your mental and emotional health too. We hope that you found the recent Well-being email and the Storal Learning Staff Support Toolkit useful – don’t forget to refer to it if you ever feel you need some hints, tips or advice. We also have our Employee Assistance Programme for when things may feel a bit overwhelming – just call 0333 000 2082 for free and confidential support.

Here are just a few examples of the fun activities that have taken place across our nurseries over the past few weeks, which we hope will give you inspiration:

  • Rainbows have become the universal sign of hope and gratitude during this crisis. Tiggy-Winkles in Cheshire shared theirs with their local supermarket and hospital and we know many of you have yours posted on walls and windows at nursery.
  • From activity packs to video messages and puppet shows, staff have really shown their creativity and love for their children and families. At Ickle Pickles, even our furloughed staff have voluntarily sent videos of themselves reading stories for the children, so the children don’t forget their faces;
  • Wilmere Lane in Cheshire shared a lovely activity with their parents, involving making a ‘thankful paper chain’ – writing down something that they are thankful for/makes them happy and hanging them around the house to focus on positive thoughts;
  • Archway in Dorset created a display of their children keeping busy at home to give their children a sense of belonging and to still feel part of the nursery when they return from isolation;
  • Ashby Day Nursery was very busy the week before they closed, filming enough story sessions with the lovely Emma to post one story a day for a month. These have been extremely popular with the first story session on the 26th March receiving 1.4k views on the nursery’s Facebook page!
  • Families at Tiny Tots have been participating in online drama and music sessions at home, as well as enjoying a virtual tour of Longleat Safari Park, while children at nursery have taken part in a cinema day with popcorn, whilst watching the animals roam;
  • The management team at Old Crofts Bank, in particular Marie, who has swapped her nursery uniform for painting overalls, with the hope of inspiring the children and, indeed, the staff when the nursery re-opens.

Now is perhaps as good a time as any to remind everyone that nominations for the Storal Awards close on 31st May. This is a wonderful opportunity to recognise your peers, not just for their heroism during the crisis, but for their extraordinary work throughout the past 12 months. Voting is open to all employees across the company and you can nominate more than one person!

Nominate someone today!

So, what does the future hold? In the short term, although the shutdown has been extended by a further 3 weeks, we can seek hope from the curve flattening out and by what’s happening on the continent. On Wednesday children returned to schools and kindergartens in half of Denmark’s municipal districts; Austria allowed DIY stores, garden centres and shops with an area of no more than 400 sqm to resume trading on Tuesday; and in Germany, schools are set to reopen on 4th May. We know that any re-opening is likely to take a gradual approach, but these are positive developments.

But it’s important we level with you. The economy is currently going through an unprecedent shock and much of the employment gains that have taken place over the past decade have been wiped out in a matter of weeks. Even once shops and businesses start to open, with less people in work, the requirement for childcare may reduce. As businesses have grown more accustomed to remote working during this lockdown period, we may start to see more parents working from home and potentially adjusting their childcare requirements.

But there is also reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of the childcare sector. As the Chancellor has said, the economy was fundamentally strong before the COVID-19 outbreak, and there is reason to believe that the sharp fall in economic activity will be followed by bounce back, albeit not as sharply. Moreover, even if demand patterns do change in the short term, this crisis has highlighted just how important our sector is to the functioning of the economy, and indeed to nurturing future generations. Not a day goes past without some mention in the press about the importance of nurseries and early years education.

When it does come time for parents deciding which nursery to place their child in, or indeed, for practitioners deciding which company they would feel proud to work for, we hope our collective team efforts during this period have demonstrated our true colours and will stand us in good stead. Never have the benefits of being part of a larger group been more apparent than during this crisis. Our team at Central Support and our Area Managers have quickly had to become quasi-experts in all areas related to the new Government guidance. We simply could not have responded the way we did without them. Moreover, through the collective pooling of resources and prudent financial management, we know that we will weather this storm, and all of you should take comfort from that. Moreover, with the dedication we have observed over the past few weeks across every level of the organisation, we are confident that we will emerge from this crisis as a stronger, more cohesive organisation.

We’d like to end our letter by sharing a few observations. While the news has a habit of focusing on the worst in society, this period has also showcased the very best in us, with countless small acts of kindness that have melted our hearts and reminded us of the importance of compassion, selflessness and a spirit of generosity. Thank you to Cook, the food retailer where a few of our parents work, for donating a full array of delicious meals for our children and staff at Ickle Pickles to enjoy; to Morrisons for donating more Easter Eggs than the team at Rocking Horse could possibly eat in a lifetime; to the parent in the South West who insisted on paying April fees, even though his child is not eligible to attend, just to show his support for the nursery and the staff; and to the parent at Rocking Horse, again, for providing us with such a generous quantity of hand sanitizer that we were able to share our supplies with parents and the local care home which the children used to visit before the virus struck. The list goes on and what it so clearly shows is that there is goodness to be found everywhere. And, let’s not forget Captain Tom!

Thank you, all, for everything you do. We truly hope that we, and most importantly all our children, will meet again, soon.

Take care,

Ashwin Grover & Varun Chanrai
Managing Directors
Storal Learning

A letter from the Managing Directors – 17.04.20

Our chosen charity for 2020 is Young Minds charity. Storal Learning have made a commitment to end the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace and recognise the importance of mental health support and its access for all. 2020 will be a wonderful opportunity to also extend this out to the children in our care, the families that we support and the young people who will be entering our settings now or in the near future, either as staff or as parents. You may have also seen the many advertisements on television about the rise in child anxiety – this is an amazing opportunity to support a charity that are seeking to reverse this.

We will be organising fundraising events over the course of the year to work towards our goal. If you’d like to help us reach our target, you can contribute on our JustGiving page.

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