How the PM came for coffee at Monkey Puzzle Nursery
Hear from the Owner of Monkey Puzzle Greenford, John Gill, about when the PM came to visit for a coffee.
How did you get a visit from the PM?
We have another nursery in Uxbridge and the Prime Minister is our MP there. I previously had interactions with him as London mayor in my other job and we wrote to Downing Street last year letting him know our nursery in Uxbridge had been open throughout the pandemic for key workers.
He wrote back to thank us. We were building our new nursery in Greenford but really struggled due to the impact of Covid. It’s a purpose-built amazing nursery with 180 childcare places and jobs for 70 staff.
I had told the PM that the costs were much higher due to Covid to build the new nursery but because of the amazing Government support, we were able to go ahead with the project.
I asked if a cabinet minister could come and officially open our new nursery but the PM wrote back and said he would like to do it himself! We opened the week before his visit but Boris officially opened it on 25 March because he wanted to fit it into another early years announcement.
What measures did you put in place?
It’s a brand new nursery setting that can take 180 children but we just had 8 children to start with and it’s got state of the art ventilation system as well. We had to have that as there are no windows but we upped the quality as we knew ventilation would be a big thing going forwards.
For security reasons, we couldn’t tell anyone, not even our staff team, who was coming in that day – not even the manager. All they knew was that a minister was visiting. Only myself and my wife Sukhy knew who was actually coming.
How did staff, parents and children react?
The children were fabulous. “I have seen you on tv talking about the virus,” said one boy.
Boris was really in his element, his team had to pull him away! The babies were really drawn to him, he had a real connection to the children. The staff team were shocked – I had to order a plaque two weeks before but had managed to keep it from them – but they were really professional, focused on what they were doing. We told them to focus on the activities set up.
We had asked three parents to stay in the building but had no idea who was coming, They just knew the media would be there for a ministerial visit. It was very relaxed and went really well.
Benefits for children and nursery?
For the nursery, we were £400k overspent for the new build but you can’t buy this sort of publicity, it’s unique. Any cabinet minister visiting your nursery is good for PR but the PM is etched in history. That plaque in 100 years’ time, people will still know who that was. We can’t buy this level of promotion.
I have pictures of the event all around the nursery – you can’t oversell this. It will go some way into wiping out the overspend. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since. Everyone who comes to the door knows about the event.
It was a learning opportunity for the children and staff – he was here for 90 minutes. In the board room, they talked about the early years announcement – it was Andrea Leadsom’s Start for Life review. He walked out of there and gave a flawless press conference.
Any advice for our members – anything you would do differently?
On reflection, there was nothing we would do differently. It just went so well. It almost fell apart the weekend before when we had a call from Downing St who had had a call from the press office. They had been contacted by someone in the Uxbridge constituency asking if the PM was coming on Thursday.
I hadn’t told anyone but needed some parents coming over from Uxbridge – it was a minister’s visit so someone had rung Downing Street. It would have been nice to have told staff but we couldn’t take the risk – we are franchisees we couldn’t even tell the head office.
We had a lot of nerves. On the run-up to the day, it was so stressful, we couldn’t know if it would happen or not.
We decided to continue as if it was going to happen. On Tuesday they rang me – it’s still on! On Thurs morning we decided to behave and act as if it was someone else’s nursery and we were going to visit them. We decided to enjoy the day as it was too late to change anything.
But it was worth all the stress beforehand. The Downing St team bring their own photographers and media – it’s very controlled. They gave us a lot of photos and a short video of the day.
This piece was originally featured in Nursery News magazine summer 2021.
- early years
- Government support
- Prime Minister