The nursery arm of Midcounties Co-operative has increased its number of children’s centres from six to 30 after acquiring social enterprise Buffer Bear, making it the tenth largest provider in the country.
Before the deal, the society had six nurseries in Oxford, Swindon and Gloucestershire. Now, the 24 new sites, which will have The Co-operative Childcare branding complete later this year, are in the north of England, Thames Valley and the south east of England, stretching from Newcastle to Southampton.
Midcounties Chief Executive Ben Reid hailed it as “a tremendous step forward” for the society in the expansion and development of a co-operative childcare service, as well as being significant for the Co-op Movement as a whole. The transfer of Buffer Bear to Midcounties was finalised before Christmas following a consultation process with the newly-acquired group’s 650 staff, parents and partners.
Said Mr Reid: “We have been looking to expand our nurseries group for some time and are delighted to have reached this agreement with Buffer Bear, which has ethical values very similar to our own.
“We have gained considerable experience running our six nurseries and have used that time to develop a co-operative model for the provision of childcare. The acquisition of Buffer Bear gives us the critical mass necessary that will enable us to extend the concept, and we are actively considering other opportunities.
“From our experience in childcare it is clear people place a high level of trust in the co-operative approach to nursery care and early years learning. It makes childcare an ideal extension of our co-operative business model and we look forward to being able to deliver co-operative childcare in a way that justifies that trust for many years to come.”
The acquisition places Co-operative Childcare just outside the top ten of childcare providers in the UK by number of nursery places provided, which is 2,050. However by number of locations, the society is the tenth largest operator. According to Nursery Chains directory, the largest is Busy Bees Group with 11,831 places and 129 sites, while the second largest is Bright Horizons with 135 locations and 8,484 places.
Mr Reid complimented Buffer Bear’s founder Dr Kay Turner for the way she had created and built up Buffer Bear nurseries as a social enterprise and not-for-profit childcare provider. He said the staff had shown her great loyalty and he looked forward to welcoming them as colleagues at Midcounties.
He added: “We can assure them we will do our very best to continue the quality of the relationship they enjoyed with Buffer Bear and provide them with the opportunity to develop and further their careers.”
Dr Turner, Managing Director of Buffer Bear, said: “I have given much thought to the best way in which to find a home for the nurseries which will enable them to continue to develop high quality childcare.
“Both I and the Midcounties Co-operative firmly believe their values closely reflect the values that underpin the development of Buffer Bear. For that reason I believe they are the ideal organisation to direct and control Buffer Bear in the future in a sustainable co-operative childcare social enterprise.”
Midcounties has been running childcare nurseries since 2004. Buffer Bear was established in 1992 by Dr Turner who is retiring from Buffer Bear following the transfer to Midcounties.
The agreement to combine the nursery networks will provide funding for the charity Foundation for Children, which was established earlier in 2010 by Dr Turner to help disadvantaged children, particularly those under five. As Chair of the Trustees, Dr Turner will continue her work to support disadvantaged children and their families, which she first undertook in Buffer Bear.