Free and innovative nursery reflects on successful first year

'A PLACE TO BE PROUD OF' -- the Cubs nursery for two-year-old tots that is run by Cotmanhay Infant and  Nursery School.
'A PLACE TO BE PROUD OF' -- the Cubs nursery for two-year-old tots that is run by Cotmanhay Infant and Nursery School.

An innovative nursery for two-year-old toddlers that broke new ground when it launched in Ilkeston is celebrating its first anniversary.

And after a successful year that has exceeded all expectations, the nursery has been described as “a place to be proud of”.

The verdict comes from Katy Latchford, head teacher of Cotmanhay Infant and Nursery School on Beauvale Drive, which runs the £100,000 nursery, known as Cubs.

Katy and her staff were charged with huge responsibility when Cubs, the first establishment of its kind in Derbyshire, opened its doors. The nursery was viewed as an educational ‘guinea pig’ fronting a new government initiative designed to help working parents in deprived areas who could not afford childcare fees.

The school already had its own nursery for three-to-four-year-olds, known as Bears. And lots of privately-owned nurseries for two-year-olds had sprung up around the country. But this was a fresh challenge, offering places that would be funded by Derbyshire County Council.

At the time of the opening, Katy described the challenge as “a very exciting privilege, both for us and the community in and around Cotmanhay.” Thirteen months later, she is even more enthusiastic.

“It really has been a big success,” she said. “So much so that other schools have visited us to see how we operate. We might have been the first nursery for two-year-olds in Derbyshire, but others are being rolled out now. More and more are taking it on.”

Cubs currently has 36 two-year-olds on its books. Up to 100 youngsters are with Bears, and all will eventually progess to the infant school, where pupil numbers sit at about 200.

As mums and dads will testify, a child’s third year can be a crucial period of their growing up, and Katy is convinced the creation of Cubs has helped not only the children but the school as a whole too.

“By starting them at two, rather than three, we have got to know the families earlier and, therefore, we have been able to build relationships with them,” she said. “Children of that age are at a key point of their development, in terms of things like social interaction and physical development.

“We can work with the families, and so build a link between home and nursery. Instead of them just dropping their children off at the school gates, there is more of a partnership. It all means the youngsters are ready when they move up to infant school.

“We very much want to be part of the community. We want parents to come in, so that we can help each other.”

Katy is also sure the experience gained with Cubs will help the toddlers when they progress to Bears. “They will pick up skills that make it much easier for them to settle in,” she said. “Skills such as sharing, listening to stories and playing together.”

Cubs is based at the Surestart Centre building, which previously housed a fee-based nursery but had to close because parents couldn’t afford the cost. Cotmanhay was specifically chosen by the council because it was acutely aware of a shortage of free nursery places in the area.

Katy is full of praise for her staff, particularly Cubs manager Jane Holmes and early-years leader Saffron Foster, whom she describes as “amazing”.

“The whole team have been key to the success,” she added. “Working with two-year-olds requires a completely different skills set to working with three-year-olds, so it was quite an undertaking. Our staff are so expert.”

You can meet those staff when Cubs holds an open evening on Thursday, December 1. Visitors are sure to discover that the nursery is living up to the school’s motto, which reads ‘Celebrate, Inspire, Nurture, Succeed’.