10 March 2011
Five years ago Caroline El Semman was living the life of a high powered executive working in south Kenningston, managing advertising budgets for the likes of John Lewis – this weekend she is a mother of two opening her own nursery in leafy Dulwich.
The 36-year-old moved to East Dulwich with her management consultant husband and baby daughter Amelie three years ago. Pregnant with her second child, Caroline was drawn to the area, widely regarded as yummy mummy-ville, as it attracts professional women starting families.
“I was living in Highbury, which is very expensive and wanted somewhere bigger, but did not want to move to the countryside,” she explained. “Friends recommended it to me, telling me how close it was to town, but was less stressful than living central and was very green with great family facilities.”
But when she started her hunt for nursery places for her two young daughters, with maternity leave for baby Sienna coming to an end she found that all was not so rosy.
“The popular ones had waiting lists of up to two years and others just did not cater for a mum like me who needs to be in the office in central London by 9am and could not leave until 5pm. We do not have an underground station so doing it in an hour is not always possible. My husband does a lot of work abroad, so I just did not have the family network locally to help pick up the girls,” she said.
Digging a little deeper she realised that she was not on her own. She set about the arduous task of putting together her first ever business plan, to see if she could really start up her own nursery, that would allow mothers like her to hold down a full time job.
Two years on and the nursery will be opening up for its first full day on Monday, an extra half hour earlier and closing half an hour later than others in the area, giving kids aged one to five years breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. “Allowing,” Caroline says, “mums to enjoy time with them once they get back from the office.”
Hard facts from Southwark Council backed up Caroline’s belief that East Dulwich was not yummy mummy heaven – and there was indeed a gap in the market. “I love the area - it is great for families, but when I started putting together my business plan the figures clearly showed that there were about 30 per cent of mothers in the area using qualified child minders. And many of them did it because they could not get the right nursery place for their child. This does not include those mums using au pairs, as they are not qualified.”
Identifying that there was a high demand, Caroline talked to friends in the child care industry, to ensure she could supply the goods. “It is vital that you do your homework, that you understand all the regulations, including everything that is expected of you from Osfted. This is everything from daily health and safety checks to spotting and reporting signs of abuse,” she said.
But for other mums planning to leave the rat race, it is worth remembering that nothing in business is child’s play. Caroline’s commitment to the project does not come cheap. She has remortgaged her home to finance it and projects it will take three to four years to recover her investment. Major hurdles included getting a change of use for the property she was using for the nursery.
Twenty years ago it had been a welfare centre run by Southwark Council ,before it was bought by her present landlord, who leased it as a private home. “Neighbours were great, but officers at the council are strict on change of use and we had to appeal on noise levels before getting it through.
Also I was unaware that you have to pay tax on your lease. I have a twenty year lease, so that was pretty hefty. My advice to anyone thinking of doing the same is, do your homework,” she told the ‘News’.
Caroline’s Little Jungle Nursery is at the high end, with state of the art facilities and a team of nine staff including a chef, cleaner, nursery manager and six nursery nurses, all highly qualified.
Even before it opens she appears to have cracked the market. Catering for 30 children, she has already enrolled 40, with some part time and others full time and with a waiting list of over 100. Although she admitted that she never really had any huge ambitions to be her own boss, Caroline was quick to tell the ‘News’ that she definitely plans to expanded and, given time, will open more Little Jungle nurseries in Dulwich and the surrounding areas to meet the demand.
Little Jungle Nursery are holding the opening ceremony this Saturday, March 12 between 2.30-4.30pm at 60a Amott Road. To find out more visit www.littlejungle.co.uk
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