Edinburgh social enterprise secures £ 725,000 to start chain of outdoor nurseries

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A social enterprise start-up in Edinburgh has secured £ 725,000 to start a chain of outdoor nurseries in Scotland.

Willow Den, a business subsidiary of Inspiring Scotland, will offer childcare services in exclusively outdoor settings for Scottish children aged three to five.

The company will launch its first site in partnership with the Spartans Community Football Academy in August, accommodating up to 24 children per day.

The funding program includes a loan of £ 225,000 from Social Investment Scotland, together with a grant of £ 225,000 from the SIS Growth Challenge.

The remainder includes capital from Willow Den’s founder, Inspiring Scotland, and a group of private investors.

Willow Den hopes to grow from one nursery this year to eight by 2026, providing services to up to 200 children and creating 30 new jobs.

Research has shown that only about half of nurseries are safe to reopen after the lockdown, with one in seven expecting to stay closed.

Capacity issues are further exacerbated by an increase in funded early learning and care hours for children aged three to four.

There are 31 outdoor facilities in Scotland, compared to 2,500 nurseries in total.

Willow Den CEO Deborah Grant was appointed at the end of 2020. She has over 25 years of experience in childcare and social enterprise.

Prior to her current role, Grant was a performance consultant for the Inspiring Scotland’s Thrive Outdoors program – helping organizations develop outdoor learning programs.

Previously, she was COO of the Learning Enrichment Foundation in Toronto, Canada, and Managing Director of the Scottish social childcare enterprise Indigo Group.

Grant said: “With the doubling of funded child care hours from August and the Covid-19 continuing to impact the health and well-being of children, there is a growing demand for increased access to child care. outdoor nurseries across Scotland.

“Our aim is to help meet this demand and to support the wider outdoor learning movement to gain traction by increasing the number of open-air nurseries and daycares across the country.”

Chris Jamieson, Head of Investments at SIS, said: “Willow Den is entering an attractive market, with an increase in funded child care places and a current lack of capacity.

“We believe the company has a real opportunity to grow quickly and become a national chain, supporting children, families and communities while creating new jobs. “

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