A celebration fit of a Queen… or at least Her Majesty’s representative

January 27th 2015

On Friday the 23rd of January, a date that will now be forever embedded in my memory, I received my MBE from Her Majesty’s Representative The Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, Sir David Brewer CMG JP.  As a foreign national I receive an Honorary MBE  which is given by the representative to the Queen, rather than the Queen herself. This is despite her having a jolly good knees up in Cork when she visited in 2011.

The upside of this is that I did not have to wear a fancy dress and hat, which is just not my thing at all. Instead, I was able to receive the MBE medal anywhere I liked. It took me nearly 18 months to sort out but eventually I was able to arrange for it  to be presented with it at the staff New Year party.  Nothing could have pleased me more as I could not have an MBE without the support and commitment of the LEYF staff.

Let me share my thank you speech for those of you who were not there, although I was chuffed to bits by the extraordinary turnout and representatives from every one of our 30 nurseries including one yet to open!

I still feel very emotional over the whole event…

Thank you to everyone here today.  Last week I popped upstairs and spotted some staff in our training room. It was the Aspiring Leaders Group and Kelly Ann from Warwick asked me if I was going to be doing another rap at the New-Year Party.  She said “ oh please June we all enjoyed it last year”, but when I mentioned it to Jenny ( my long-suffering EA) she said absolutely no way and she and Charlene refused to be my backing singers!  I thought about maybe making it an EMT target but I decided they are not so much my backing band as my back up team so they were saved the indignity, although Rashid was convinced I would say something to tease him tonight… and I might just yet!

Tonight is a very special night for me. I am deeply honoured to receive the MBE not just for my work but on your behalf too. No one is a leader if they have no one to lead and at LEYF we all lead together.

As you know, LEYF is a social enterprise and trying to reshape the way childcare is provided to children, especially those from poor neighbourhoods and disadvantaged families. It’s our own little piece of social justice and I hope it will make a difference to many many children and families. There is much said about the motivation of social entrepreneurs but overwhelmingly they want to fix something that went wrong for them or their family or friends.  I was blessed with three lovely children and my youngest and only daughter is here tonight, sadly my two sons are unable to attend, one living in China and the other working in Wiltshire tonight. When my eldest child was little I needed childcare for him. I was a single parent (I have since found a very patient husband of nearly 30 happy years)  but at the time I could find nothing and what I did find was of a quality that really upset me. It was really not good enough.  Things were a bit better later on for my younger children because by then I had become the Under 8s social worker in Battersea and I was in charge of building a group of childminders and visiting the social services nurseries. I was able to recruit 90 lovely childminders ( I started with 8 so no stranger to growth  and set up groups and training and all sorts of support activities to encourage and motivate my childminders. I learned a lot from those 10 years in Battersea about how to create good childcare. My journey from there took me to Hackney and Surrey and lots of training and development until, while doing an MA in the evening, I was introduced to WCS by the then headteacher of Dorothy Gardner (now heading up Thomas Coram.) That was 20 years ago this year. My daughter was 4 and just at an age when she could be my little experiment. I made my sample ROA using her and got her to read books, tested activities at home with her and volunteered at her primary school to see what her teacher was doing. She also marched with us to the Methodist Hall in Westminster to object to putting 4 year olds in school. Just look at us now trying to stop them putting 2 year olds in school and no marches on the street.  It’s not surprising that by then I had got the bug to improve childcare bug and it’s never gone away.

LEYF has been my own experiment and what a joyful experiment it has been with you all as pioneers, developing a new story. I have been blessed to have been able to build LEYF with the support of some great people who have stood the course of time, stalwarts like Maria and Tina, Neil (s), John, Catherine, Yasmin, Marion, Gary and Gill, nursery staff such as Anjali, David, Mona and Aine.  Now we have staff who came to LEYF as children like Elizabeth from Queens Park.  Our apprentices who are shaping the future of LEYF nurseries and have ambitions to be the next CEO. New staff coming in via our new nurseries such as Noah’s Ark, Colville Soho, Bird in Bush and Fire Station or newly opened nurseries where staff have come back to take a lead such as Nicola ( from Marsham St)  at the Conservatoire. Our chefs who play such an important role in the LEYF Pedagogy and our Trustees who help drive our business strategy through. All of this contributing to building a better future for the children of London and which we are recognised for today.

I love your enthusiasm, commitment and sheer grit.  I love to tease you whether it’s a poor apprentice like Anaya from Marsham Street and her taste for junk food, or Christine at Colville who says oh no I knew you would pick on me, the lovely KB team and their great hairstyles, our COT team who get my humour. I love your willingness to give everything a try, whether new ideas, making friends across the world in Uganda and Tanzania or on the ropes at the Go Ape adventure park experience. I am delighted to find long friendships among colleagues and whole teams like Queensborough which has created the new management teams across the organisation. Anjali and Jean, Choi, Mona, Saudaa and Sharon all now leading in their own nurseries. This is replicated more and more as we take on more nurseries.

This MBE is for you all.  The MBE is not Member of the Order of the British Empire or member of June’s Empire as I can hear some people say but MAKING A BRAVE ENDEAVOUR because we are all pioneers doing something different to improve the lot of children.  You are an inspiring fun group where work life balance is all rolled into one. You are a special group and I thank you for the bottom of my heart for everything you do everyday to inspire the children, parents, each other and the sector. A toast to you all.