Tops Day Nurseries, Queens Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development
Our Sustainable Story
Tops’ journey started with a conversation with a favourite supplier, Cosy Direct, who had applied for the Award in 2021, but not quite made the cut. Described as the ultimate business award, it’s an exciting award to win. Cosy’s CEO Peter Ellse suggested to Tops’s CEO Cheryl Hadland, that she should apply for the Sustainable Development Award, given our detailed questions on the sustainability of his products and our communications with them. The deadline was very tight, although extended because of COVID, giving the Tops board the opportunity to make time to consider what evidence was available that could be presented.
Clearly achieving this Award is about evidence, and not just “bla-bla-bla” which worked in our favour as green-wash is something we constantly battle with suppliers, and the opposite of where we would want ourselves. Having achieved our B.Corp certification, after an extensive verification process over 6 months of the year before, we were in a good position to evidence our work. Our audited accounts and data were readily accessible to support our application so the award application actually only took a couple of hours each to do it.
Financially and economically Tops and sister company Aspire Training Team are a sound company, with a turnover of around £15m, having achieved a small profit every year bar a couple and having grown organically, since 1990, to the 32 nurseries across the South coast currently. Profits have consistently been reinvested in people, resources for the children, investments in sustainability and organic expansion.
Tops’ social impact is massive, with not only 4000+ children to educate and care for, but nearly 800 colleagues reliant on an income, training and career opportunities. Each nursery is part of their local community supporting parents to work, train and figure out a life balance to suit their dependants and themselves. Tops Day Nurseries are found in a variety of communities such as at NHS hospitals, colleges, churches, and local neighbourhoods which could be wealthy or deprived. The wealthier settings cross support those in poor neighbourhoods as without this they would have to close due to funding from the government that is so poor that it increasingly fails to even cover the low wages of staff working in the early years sector, something Tops’ MD, Cheryl Hadland, raises as often as possible to try and improve via parliamentarians and the DfE.
Environmentally, Tops Day Nurseries work very hard to reduce impact in order to safeguard children’s future well-being and prosperity, saving money by reducing waste of all sorts, from energy, to one use plastic, to buying other peoples waste in scrap stores and charity shops to resource play activities, but also investing, such as buying electric vehicles, plants and trees, solar panels and upgrading insulation. Tops first hit the international press at Christmas time in 2017 when plastic glitter was banned because of its detrimental effects over hundreds of years on the air, land and water, potentially getting into the food chain and into humans as well as fish and animals. Although there was little evidence of plastic causing any problems inside humans at that time, the body of evidence is increasing each year, with impacts on oestrogen hormones affecting fertility and gender having been identified, a frightening legacy to give our children. An epic list of changes followed as Cheryl Hadland, Founder and CEO, retrained in sustainability and then persuaded and cajoled not only the Tops Day Nurseries staff and parents, but other nursery owners and suppliers to make more sustainable decisions in the name of future generations. She also formed a registered charity www.GECCO.org.uk to spread the word recognising that the impact would be much more significant if more people were involved, turning away from keeping the information to her own companies, and capitalising on a competitive edge, to a more collaborative and inclusive message because she wanted all nurseries, and indeed the DfE and politicians to engage, advocating for children’s rights.
Covid brought enormous challenges, straining the teams resilience to the limit, as Cheryl opted to keep nurseries open to key children only, but with only 35% occupancy in some and zero in others. Parents weren’t charged if their children weren’t in, so a frightening loss-making position loomed immediately into view. Colleagues across the business from board directors to nursery practitioners were obliged to cover furloughed staff’s roles as well as their own. Multiple decisions had to be made very quickly as government and medical advice changed, often with very little notice. and even in retrospect on one fateful evening. Lives, livelihoods and even homes were at stake, including the CEO’s own, and communications had to be increased and adapted to reassure and direct colleagues. Covid isn’t over in the early years sector, with 30% pa turnover currently, around 50% of staff have left the sector since the start of Covid, for safer, and better paid jobs elsewhere, increasing the strain on those remaining.
Tops Day Nurseries is absolutely delighted to win this Queens Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development and are proud of what has been achieved. Tops also looks forward to achieving much more as an organisation through learning more and piloting new processes and cascading them around the group, but significantly more still through sharing both good and bad experiences, and through influencing and inspiring others to make sustainability part of every decision in order to safeguard future generations.
Providing happy, nurturing childcare for the hours you need, across over 30 nursery settings in: Babbacombe, Plymouth, Bournemouth, Charminster, Copnor, Fawley, Gillingham, Corfe Mullen, Havant, Lakeside, Lymington, Taunton, Newport, Poole, Portsmouth, Salisbury,
Southsea, Wareham, Wimborne, Winchester, and Yeovil.