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What do you call a group of Buttons, Little Hens, Les Enfants, Little Learners, Dizzy Ducks, and Bourne Valley?
No, it’s not the start of a bad joke - the answer is ‘Kindred’.
Kindred as a group came about when the Early Years settings above came together under Eduko and agreed that they wanted to feel more like a family because, as they say at Kindred, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.
It was the group’s own Director of Childcare, Annie Tierney who suggested the name ‘Kindred’, meaning a group of related or familial things, similar in character or nature.
As Sarah Fromageot, the Kindred Brand and Marketing Manager explains, “We did loads of research and we realised that collectively, we all wanted to be something. Parents were keen, but especially the staff. They wanted to feel like they were part of something.”
And now, 4 years later, that same something is Nursery World’s Nursery Group of the Year.
So how did they do it?
I met with Sarah to find out.
• Everyone makes an impact
You don’t win Nursery Group of the Year with one or two superstar staff - everyone on the team needs to be given the opportunity to shine. Changes such as enhancing the settling in resources and getting the menus accredited came bottom-up, from the staff in the settings, not top-down from the leadership team.
• Gentle growth and expansion
Kindred prefer a gentle approach when they acquire new settings. Small changes, like the menu and the branding, are made slowly, in cooperation and dialogue with the teams and families.
• A clear, authentic mission
The Kindred mission - to create awe and wonder - is ‘lived’ in every part of the settings, not just in the staff handbook, from supporting parents with fees to questioning whether every decision meets their values.
Just like Annie suggested the name, everything about the Kindred brand came from the staff and parents themselves. Staff had a say in their own uniform fabric and design and the brand colours came from focus groups with parents.
“As we’ve got bigger, we have more of a sense of identity and who we are, but we still want people to feel that they are building kindred with us,” says Sarah, “It’s something we’re very aware of. We want everyone to feel they have the opportunity to say ‘Kindred is a little brighter because of me’”
So how does a growing group live out that intention each day?
Well, Kindred are fans of the ‘sherpa’ analogy - they’ll guide you, but you have to climb the mountain on your own feet. This means that they give staff tools like Spark, their HR system, or Famly, but expect a high degree of autonomy too. Staff are encouraged to be proactive in making suggestions for improvements and initiatives, and that’s facilitated in several ways:
“Even more so right now, it can feel quite bleak in childcare,” explains Sarah, “People feel they can’t make a difference, finances are tight and there are bigger and bigger problems. We want to be a light and say ‘You can make a difference. Let’s get together and change the narrative.’”
And of course, Kindred want to keep their amazing staff.
“We struggle with recruitment too,” says Sarah, “It’s harder now than I’ve ever known it. It’s hitting all of us. Once we have people through the door they realise what a great place to work it is. We’ve just done our ‘Awe and Wonder’ awards and the feedback has been so much about how people feel they can shine at Kindred. Kindred helps them to be the best they can be. It’s really, really lovely.”
This desire to keep the great staff they have naturally supports recruitment as well. Kindred are proud of how staff represent their settings on social media, especially to prospective new colleagues.
“Faye, one of our area managers is amazing at this,” smiles Sarah, “She’ll tell people how to get to their local nursery. ‘Oh you get the number 10 bus, just jump off at this stop!’ It really sets the scene for what kind of a place Kindred is to work for. That we have that family feel and we’re in it together. We want to help you to thrive.”
Most expanding groups experience some kind of growing pains, especially when that growth means changes for staff, parents, and children. But Kindred have managed to retain 96% of managers in the settings they acquire.
Sarah puts this down to communication, understanding, and a process they’ve improved on over time. The philosophy of gentleness and support when acquiring a new setting is very deliberate. New sites are given plenty of opportunities to question how things are done and offer improvements to current systems or ideas. It’s not about going in and simply imposing The Kindred Way.
Kindred only acquire settings with similar ethos and pedagogy to their own, meaning changes, such as new uniforms or new menus, can be made at a relatively relaxed pace - the fundamentals of each setting won’t change that much. Kindred retain everything that makes those settings so loved in their own communities.
“We call ourselves the Big Little Family,” says Sarah “We want to retain each nursery’s own unique feel- the ‘Little Family’ feel. But what we can offer is the ‘Big Family’ - a whole HR and recruitment team, a brand team, all the back-end support and all the training that goes with that, and support with Ofsted.”
And Famly is there to help the Little Big Famly as they get a little bigger - an expanding group needs a way to unify and stay in touch. As Sarah explains, “It’s all about communication with staff and parents. Famly is an amazing engagement tool to enhance everything we’re doing. The only reason it all comes to life for our families is because of Famly. Our brand is built through Famly. Of course, parents talk to staff, but so much is shared and built in Famly. We tell staff ‘Use Famly! That’s your mouthpiece to get out what you’re doing and share how brilliant you are!’”
We don’t need the external validation, but we love how the teams are now thinking ‘Wow, actually maybe we are trailblazers. To have someone externally say, you are doing something incredible, and not just have me telling them that we’re doing something different. I feel like it gave us all a bit of a spark.
Sarah Fromageot, Brand and Marketing Manager, Kindred, on winning Nursery World Nursery Group of the Year, 2022
When it comes to Kindred’s mission - to create awe and wonder for all the children who attend- Sarah explains that it’s imperative that the team authentically lives this each day, in every interaction with children and families. A mission statement up on a staffroom wall means nothing unless your team are practising those values day to day.
For Kindred, this means looking beyond just how the children are educated and cared for, or exciting activities, but genuinely understanding, working in partnership and sharing with parents and carers. They call this approach ‘Live, not laminate’, but what does that look like in practice?
Well, it starts with recognising that creating awe and wonder doesn’t just happen in the rooms with the children.
“Sometimes creating awe and wonder is actually far removed from playing on the floor, with the children,” Sarah explains, “For example, finance might say “No, this parent has to pay this by this time!’. But We can’t try to talk to that parent about the awe and wonder their child has experienced if they’re just feeling berated that they haven't paid a bill on time. Instead, it’s about looking at what’s happening and understanding the background of that family. What’s the climate like? What can we do here to help? What can we set up?”
But it’s not just about understanding a family’s unique situation, it’s the consideration of even these mundane and functional messages, which means Kindred’s voice is felt in every part of their interactions with families.
As Sarah explains, “Making sure the balance is perfectly set between making the point and making sure our family feel and personality comes through, is in the words and feeling. For example, in payment reminders, we do this by explaining the why behind us needing payment before a certain date and not just stating a deadline.”
Although routines, software, and policies might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine the words ‘awe and wonder’, Sarah explains that it’s these necessary ‘back-end’ considerations that allow Kindred’s mission to be carried out by staff. Having a strong system for educators and managers to work within means saving time on admin and organisation - and that means more time to support and guide staff, or be with the children creating awe and wonder.
And the same applies to parents and families. Sarah explains that having a system for communicating all the details that families need about their child’s day, means that they feel they have more time to talk to educators about the things that really matter.
“Rather than having to use the precious time at the door or phone to chat to us about paying invoices or if payments have been received, staff can talk to parents about their child creating mud concoctions in the mud kitchens,” says Sarah, “And obviously all these things led us to Famly, as you guys solve this brilliantly!”
Using all these different parts [of Famly] makes parents’, carers’, and families’ lives so much easier. We want to take away the guilt for parents and instead, share with them the awe and wonder that their child is experiencing at nursery. We want parents to share in the milestones children meet and the amazing things they’re doing. There are such immense benefits that they are exposed to, as a family, whilst being a part of a nursery - Famly is our tool to share that.
Sarah Fromageot, Brand and Marketing Manager, Kindred
You can find out more about how Famly supports Kindred’s parent partnerships in this video, but like every decision or action, it’s always in line with creating awe and wonder.
“We always come back to ‘Does that meet with our mission? Are we doing this the right way?’” says Sarah, “Ruth [Pimentel] is a brilliant CEO and always brings us back to our North Star, which is creating awe and wonder for the children.”
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.