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Investment secured to launch outdoor nurseries in Scotland - Inspiring Scotland

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Investment secured to launch outdoor nurseries in Scotland

Inspiring Scotland has secured social investment funding to launch outdoor nurseries in Scotland.

Inspiring Scotland’s newly launched not for profit trading subsidiary – Willow Den  – will offer Early Learning and Childcare in exclusively outdoor settings for children in Scotland aged 3 to 5 years old.

The funding package includes £225,000 loan funding from Social Investment Scotland matched by a £225,000 grant from the SIS Growth Challenge, with the remainder comprising patient capital from Inspiring Scotland, and a pool of private investors.

Willow Den plans to operate across Scotland’s communities, with ambitions to expand from one nursery this year to eight by 2026, delivering services for up to 200 children and creating 30 new jobs. Its first site will open in August in partnership with Spartans Community Football Academy with capacity for up to 24 children per day.

Celia Tennant, chief executive of Inspiring Scotland, said: “Our work over the past decade has highlighted the impact of high-quality outdoor play as an essential catalyst for healthy childhood development and a fundamental part of growing up in Scotland.

“However, our experience also uncovered a gap in the availability and provision of high-quality outdoor nurseries in Scotland. Combining our sector experience and entrepreneurial approach, we took the bold decision to create a sustainable business model to address this at scale. We are delighted that Social Investment Scotland are on board to help us and Willow Den achieve our ambition that every child in Scotland has the opportunity to play and learn in the outdoors.”

Chris Jamieson, head of investments at SIS, said: “Willow Den is launching into an attractive market, with an increase in funded nursery places and a current lack of capacity. This is an exciting opportunity for SIS to support a high growth and high social impact enterprise. Willow Den addresses a range of social needs, the most important being access to good quality nursery education. We believe the enterprise has a genuine opportunity to scale quickly and grow into a national chain, supporting children, families and communities as well as creating new jobs. We’re looking forward to working with Deborah and the team as they pursue their ambitious plans for growth.”

Deborah Grant, CEO of Willow Den, said: “I’m delighted to be leading Willow Den through an exciting launch period, with a clear aim of creating more opportunities for children to spend quality time outdoors.

“With funded childcare hours doubling from August, and Covid-19 continuing to impact children’s health and wellbeing, there is growing demand for increased access to outdoor nurseries across Scotland. Our aim is to help to meet this demand and support the wider outdoor learning movement to gain traction by increasing the number of outdoor early learning and childcare nurseries across the country.”

Since 2009 Inspiring Scotland has been driving forward a cultural change and awareness of why outdoor play and learning is vital for children’s health, wellbeing and development.

This has involved working with charities, schools, outdoor organisations and public bodies to support collaboration, innovation and development in outdoor play and learning, sharing best practice and supporting research to promote better understanding of the importance of outdoor play.

Inspiring Scotland is a founding signatory of the National Position Statement on Outdoor Play and Learning which is a bold commitment to working together to embed playing and learning outdoors as an everyday activity and a fundamental part of growing up in Scotland.

Read more about the Investment from Social Investment Scotland.

Read more about Inspiring Scotland’s work in outdoor play and learning.

Read more about Willow Den.

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