It was 40 years ago when three families began a search for the right nursery, striving to create safe and enriching environments filled with opportunities for children to learn and develop.
As Busy Bees celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, we sat down with Co-Founder, Marg Randles, who looks back over the last 40 years, sharing her most memorable moments and the exciting plans for the future.
1. Hi Marg! Did you ever imagine Busy Bees would be such a large nursery group back when you opened the first setting in the late 80s?
When we opened our first nursery, we weren’t looking to start a business, we were just trying to create the childcare we wanted and needed for our families. A place where we felt our children would be happy, secure, well cared for and treated with respect, with a real focus on education which was critical at such a fundamental time in young children’s lives.
We couldn't find an option that offered everything we wanted. So, my husband and I, together with Lynn and John Woodward and with help from our friends, David and Sally Thackray, we decided to make it ourselves.
We sold our houses, purchased a property, converted it and moved in upstairs with John, Lynn and Steven, their 10-month-old son. And in 1983, we established Rocklands in Lichfield, Staffordshire.
We worked hard to create a safe and enriching environment filled with opportunities to learn. Lynn and I worked in the nursery ourselves, juggling caring for our new babies and caring for the other children, and we recruited the most passionate skilled people who were committed to the job. It was a place that children and parents loved being a part of.
Rocklands formed the blueprint for all the nurseries we run today, but we certainly didn’t set out with the intention of building a global operation. When we first opened, we were solely focused on creating a space to meet the needs of our children.
Within 12 months all 50 places in the first nursery were full. It was John who really inspired us to consider opening a second nursery, with a vision to share the experience with as many families as possible.
He was always the visionary, driving the business forward. I’d never considered we would be where we are today. But we would not be where we are without our people; past, present and future, doing exceptional things for children and families. With 40 years of providing children with the best opportunities, seeing my own children and now grandchildren experience Busy Bees makes me incredibly proud.
2. What have been your most memorable moments?
There have been so many over the years it’s hard to choose! I am fortunate to have had a career in early years because influencing the lives of children has been amazing. Something that is always really rewarding for me personally is watching as children transition from Busy Bees to school.
We take pride in all our children leaving us ready and excited to take on the next stage in their lives. When my own children started school, they were so capable, confident, and eager to learn – it cemented our belief that we were doing the right things and could offer more children the best start in life.
And the same goes for every single Busy Bees child. It’s so rewarding to watch them discover a love for learning that can set them up for life.
That’s why we began to expand overseas and take our philosophy to childcare to other countries. First was Singapore and Malaysia – I’m very proud of the opportunities we have created for people across the world, from children and parents to our centre teams.
Every time we open a new centre, wherever it is in the world, it gives me pause for thought, a moment to take stock and reflect on everything that our amazing teams have achieved.
3. How has operating a childcare business changed over the decades?
Over 40 years, government policies and new legislation have inevitably shaped the way the industry has developed.
Our approach to teaching early years has definitely evolved and improved over the years. When we first opened, our programme was split between direct and child-led learning. Following the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework in 2008, there was more focus on free play and the sector moved away from directed learning. Recently, thinking is moving back towards a more teacher led approach. We sow the seeds of interest and the children enjoy learning about things they didn’t know they were interested in.
The main thing is to make learning fun and relevant to a child’s interests to keep them engaged. Learning in the early years is so important to their future because it lays down educational foundations for years to come, a significance which is often overlooked. We want to help children develop curious minds and a love of learning, to be creative, independent and to be caring and considerate to each other and the world around them.
4. 40 years in business is a great achievement, how will the group celebrate?
It certainly is! This year is all about celebrating the hundreds of thousands of people that Busy Bees has supported to be who they are today – including existing children, parents and alumni.
We’ll be hosting celebrations at Busy Bees nurseries across the world, bringing people together to look back at what we have all achieved together over the 40 years with pride, as well as looking to the future and continuing to provide the best possible service.
I am extremely proud of all that we have achieved over the past 40 years, and marking this anniversary is a real milestone for us.
5. What are the future plans for Busy Bees? Do you have any countries you would like to expand into where you don’t already have sites?
Everything we do has to be right for our people. When it comes to moving into new markets, it’s really important that we find countries that have the same ambitions as we do, which has meant us deciding against certain territories if this isn’t the case.
However, our focus isn’t solely on acquisitions. This spring, we’re opening a brand-new, purpose-built centre in Lichfield, going back to where it all began. This will be a truly exceptional nursery with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities and a highly experienced, friendly, childcare team.
Our greatest ambition is that Busy Bees provides children wherever we are in the world with the best possible start in life for another 40 years – and many more!