“It’s proving very difficult”: Jaybees Childcare owner discusses Covid-19 and the challenges it poses for the childcare sector
In conversation with The Parliamentary Review, Jackie Bell, the owner and manager of Lochmaben based nursery Jaybees Childcare, discusses the coronavirus pandemic and how they have sought to plot a course through uncharted waters.
The speed in which the Covid-19 situation escalated meant that Jaybees was forced to make some very swift decisions regarding its finances, which would ultimately impact its children but also its staff.
Bell said: “It became clear that things were moving pretty fast with respect to the coronavirus in Great Britain and we called an emergency management meeting on March 16 to make vital decisions regarding our future, and the health and well-being of children, staff and families using Jaybees childcare.”
One of the first huge decisions Bell has to make was to siphon off funds that had been set aside for expansion and instead use those to keep the business running.
Bell explained: “The nursery had a sum of money earmarked for expansion in a nearby town. I decided that this money could be used to keep Jaybees open for an additional three months, so that we could help those parents working on the front-line. The funds help us to cover staff wages and running costs.
“I felt that our members of staff needed this reassurance that they would continue to be paid and that their job would be waiting for them after the storm has passed.”
The next step which Bell then opted to take was to give her staff the option to continue to work or remain at home.
“It was also important as well as giving staff the choice, to ensure that they felt confident to make the decision either way, taking into account personal anxiety, vulnerable family and young children needing them at home”, Bell said.
“Nobody would be judged on their decision and I was honestly overwhelmed by my team’s response. They truly are amazing and felt, like me, that this was our chance to help and that this is what we are good at: looking after children. They really approached it with a ‘can do attitude’.
“We then emailed all of our lovely families, asking them to cancel all standing orders and explained that Jaybees would temporarily operate as a nursery for front-line staff only. The families were extremely understanding and supportive of the decision”.
However, making that operational choice has not come without an impact.
“We have now gone from 75 children per day accessing our service - ranging from babies through to our before and after school group - to now operating with half our staff on a fortnightly rotation to approximately 10 children per day”, Bell explained.
“This has a huge financial impact and we will feel the strain at some point.”
For Bell, however, the focus must remain on helping front-line workers and ensuring their children are looked after under the care of Jaybees.
“These front-line staff must be able to attend work, safe in the knowledge that their children are happy and enjoying themselves under our care.
“Our decision to work with half the number of staff on a rotation was to cover any absences through illness or self-isolation and to stand by government guidelines for essential work.”
Bell then paid tribute the local Dumfries and Galloway education department who have offered much support throughout the pandemic.
Bell: “The local education department has been very supportive”, Bell said. “They have kept in touch regularly and have very kindly paid us for our Early Learning and Childcare delivery from Easter to summer, although this will not be delivered as a result of the outbreak.
“We have calculated that this will help us stay open for a further two months. They have offered to source cleaning resource and food if at any point we find this difficult. I cannot thank them enough.”
However, Bell and Jaybees are still left with other major issues to ponder.
“Working with our insurance company is proving very difficult concerning business disruption”, Bell said. “We also have to weigh-up whether or not to furlough staff who are not working, and whether this will indeed be possible at all since we have stayed open.
“Elsewhere, we must ensure that we can continue to secure deliveries of food and other essential supplies for the day-to-day running of Jaybees, continue to sustain the health and well-being of our children, and, when all of this does eventually subside, we will then have to contend with the challenge of settling all of the children back into the hive of nursery life.
“For both the children and us, this is likely to be easier said than done.”
For now, though, Bell is simply taking every day as it comes.
“I continue to try not to be overly concerned about the serious drop in our income. I’m concentrating hard on giving the children of front-line workers a fun day with lots of activities, a healthy meal and compassion and care. We will be sharing our journey through email and social media with families, so that they can keep themselves busy at home by taking part in some of the activities we will be doing from their own space.
“In these uncertain times, I have made the decision to put what is in the best interest of my business to one side for the greater good of my country, and I am sure that I will look back and be very proud of my team and what we have managed to do.”