The Silver Lining
An interview with Tanya Galitzine, Director Wise Owls Childcare
On 16th March 2020 life as we know it came to a sudden halt. How did that feel for you as the director of a childcare business?
A couple of weeks before lockdown we had know idea what was to come. We had implemented changes in our day nurseries, preschools and clubs like hand sanitiser and deep cleaning but it didn’t really hit me until lockdown that people were getting very ill and that we were facing a grave situation.
Like everyone, we had about two day’s notice and it sent us into a spin. Almost overnight, we received lengthy policy documents containing new regulations and procedures that we had to implement immediately. I’ve run Wise Owls for 20 years and this was the first time I had ever thought - I’m not sure I want to do this anymore. At this stage, I kept reminding myself why it was so important. With NHS staff on the frontline working so hard to keep us all safe, it was critical that I stayed strong for my team so we could continue to work for our local communities and provide an essential service.
What impact has the pandemic had on your business?
I would say, reflecting on it now, the single biggest issue is the impact it has had on my staff. It has damaged people’s confidence and their mental wellbeing and it has left many scars. From that first lockdown in March we were obligated to read and implement so many new rules, our world turned upside down and this took us all into foreign territory. I had some staff who were afraid to go to work and be on the front line. As a boss, you can’t assure them that it will be ok because it wasn’t something I could guarantee
Financially, of course, our business took a huge hit that we are working hard to recover from. Thanks to the dedication of our team, we are building again - but it has been very tough. Despite losing the majority of our business overnight, we still had our rent, we still had operational costs as we were looking after children of key workers. The government funding, the furlough scheme and an understanding bank became our lifeline. It meant for the foreseeable future, that I could hold onto my team. They mean everything to me and I take my hat off to them for their dedication and resilience.
Are you seeing a change in people’s attitudes towards childcare now?
For quite a while, many people didn’t want to come back to childcare. They felt very nervous about exposing their children to potential risks without knowing how it might affect them. For others who lost their jobs or for those working from home, childcare either wasn’t accessible or necessary.
But slowly and surely, as confidence grows, we are seeing things return to a ‘new’ normal. Obviously many parents are still working from home, but trying to juggle both work and childcare isn’t a viable option so children are coming in 2-3 days a week, instead of five. Most can see the benefits of early years education, and after so many months where children had little exposure to the world beyond their immediate family, there is a noticeable gap in language development, social skills and independence.
Has there been a silver lining through all of this?
I think the silver lining is that Wise Owls has become more of a community. Rather than a collection of independent nurseries, preschools and clubs, zoom calls have enabled us to meet as one team, which has improved our communication, the way we share good practice and most importantly how we support each other. I’ve also spent quite a lot of time over the past year on the shop floor, back to where it all began, taking care of children. This has served as a good reminder of how challenging and rewarding early years education is and has bolstered me for the next part of this journey, because what we do is essential, not to mention fun and rewarding.
Tanya Galitzine started Wise Owls Childcare 20-years ago and now operates four day nurseries, two preschools, breakfast, after school and holiday clubs across Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire. Visit www.wiseowlschildcare.co.uk