Edinburgh venture plans chain of outdoor nurseries for under fives after funding deal

An Edinburgh-based start-up has secured major six-figure funding to launch a chain of outdoor nurseries.

Monday, 19th July 2021, 11:24 am
Updated Monday, 19th July 2021, 11:24 am
Deborah Grant, CEO of Willow Den: '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.' Picture: Malcolm Cochrane Photography

Social enterprise Willow Den – a trading subsidiary of Inspiring Scotland – will offer early learning childcare in exclusively outdoor settings for children in Scotland aged three to five years old.

The enterprise is to launch its first site in partnership with Spartans Community Football Academy next month with capacity for up to 24 children per day.

The £725,000 funding package includes £225,000 loan funding from Social Investment Scotland (SIS) matched by a £225,000 grant from the SIS Growth Challenge, with the remainder comprising patient capital from Willow Den’s founder, Inspiring Scotland, and a pool of private investors.

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The venture plans to operate across Scotland, including in deprived communities, with ambitions to expand from one nursery this year to eight by 2026, delivering services for up to 200 children and creating 30 jobs.

Willow Den is led by chief executive Deborah Grant who was appointed in late 2020 and has some 25 years’ experience working in childcare and social enterprise.

She said: “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.”

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.”

Celia Tennant, chief executive of Inspiring Scotland, added: “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.”

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