• Saplings Kindergarten and Forest School (DBOP)

    Saplings Kindergarten and Forest School (DBOP)

    Find out why our sector specific programme of support focused on the childcare sector helped Saplings Kindergarten and Forest School develop increasing turnover,  developing their marketing strategy and take on more staff.

    Saplings Kindergarten and Forest School offer a unique outdoor nursery environment from early years up to key stage two. In May 2017 Saplings was established as a Community Interest Company based in Peterlee. It began trading in January 2018 and now employs four staff.

    Voluntary director and outdoor learning manager, Georgina, was looking for support to raise awareness of their unique offer in the local community. This was provided from the Early Years Team at Durham County Council. As a result Saplings were signposted to the Durham Business Opportunities Programme* (DBOP), and in particular the specialist sector specific support offered for the Childcare Sector.

    DBOP sector specific support

    Georgina wanted help to develop her skills in marketing and business development. As a result, she attended a number of workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions to help build skills and confidence in these areas. In addition, she received tailored advice and guidance on the governance of the CIC.

    Commenting on the support Georgina said: “The support I received was very useful and easy to understand. It was down to earth and pitched at the right level, which helped to build confidence in my abilities.”

    Outcomes and impacts

    Georgina felt the business has benefited from the support in a number of ways. Firstly, the business saw a £10,000 increase of turnover in the second year of trading. Secondly, they are continuing to develop marketing skills with a view to increasing occupancy numbers and annual growth. In addition, the business revised it’s governance structure, consequently providing stable employment for four members of staff.

    Georgina added: “One of the practical outcomes from the programme has been access to a suite of templates which has enabled us to develop policies, procedures and plans. This has saved us time and money and is a valuable asset to a small company. The other very positive was the support we received from our peers. We are all in the same position and it was a great to be able to discuss the challenges we faced together”.

    Looking to the future

    With her business plans in place Georgina is looking to a bright future for the staff and children at Saplings. The aim is to work towards full capacity in the nursery and forest school, which is currently increasing by around 20% per year. Plans are also in place to offer CPD training to other childcare providers who are interested in learning about this unique way of delivering early years education.

    Commenting on her experience of DBOP Georgina said: “I have gained a lot more confidence, not only in my abilities, but also in my vision for childcare. I know that it’s OK to be bold and offer a different type of nursey education to our local community. I have the knowledge and skills to market Saplings and the plans in place to see it grow.”

    *The Durham Business Opportunities Programme is a six-year programme for SMEs running up until November 2022, helping County Durham businesses spot opportunities for sustainable growth. It is funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by Business Durham, the business support service for Durham County Council, helping to deliver more and better jobs and a strong competitive economy.