Dunky's Day Nursery


Why Dunky's did the double

My name is Siobhan McCarroll and I am the sole Director of Dunky’s Day Nurseries Ltd.  My journey began in December 2005 when I purchased my first nursery.  I had been working in nurseries for almost 28 years and had worked my way up from being a Nursery Nurse to Manager Position.   I have been involved in working in many nurseries over the years and the opening of 3 new nurseries.  I set up Cowboys & Angels in Warrington in January 2004 for a private owner – I designed the layout, ordered the furniture, wrote policies, employed staff, all aspects involved in the structure of the nursery.  I then continued to manage it for the owners who lived in Spain prior to working for myself.  This got me thinking that if I could raise the funds I had the ability to be able to do this for myself.  I managed to pull together my savings and sold a property to raise the cash.  


Siobhan's Awards

I started looking and found Dunky’s (Widnes) it was perfect as it had been running at very low capacity and was in a poor state.  I could see the potential straight away.  I decided to buy it but due to finances I was unable to give up my full-time job managing Cowboys & Angels. 

I continued to work this way until May 2008 when I felt the time had come for me to focus my time and energy into my own business as I had been doing this mainly in the evenings and weekends whilst at the same time bringing up my 2 children who are now 21 & 15.  I decided that to make it financially viable and to expand the company I would need to purchase another nursery.  

I did this in June 2008 when I bought our second nursery Dunky’s (Runcorn). I was able to raise the funds for the purchase with the help from family and the bank who agreed to give me the funding for the remainder of the money.  This was a difficult time, but I was reassured by the fact that the bank manager and my family believed in me and knew I was doing the right thing. 

It has been at times a huge struggle because when I bought the second nursery the building was in a very poor state of repair and I hadn’t realised quite how bad things were.  In the 18 years it had been operational it had never received a rating from Ofsted higher than Satisfactory.  In the first few weeks we found traces of vermin and other pests, the building had damp and much of the work that had been done in the past was of very poor quality and was in parts dangerous, I was devastated but failure was not option, so it was a case of dig deep and get stuck in.  

We closed some parts of the building down and began working evenings and weekends to eradicate the issues.  We spent many months and huge sums of money doing this and after six months transformed the building and we were thrilled to receive a rating of Good from Ofsted.

We have worked very hard to raise the standards and our profile in the area and we now pride ourselves on being one of the best childcare providers in Halton and Warrington. We have a commitment to our staff and the children in our care whilst striving to become a very profitable business.

In 2014 a friend that I had previously worked with approached me devastated that her nursery was to close after 20 years.  The Department of Education nursery in Runcorn had been served notice that it was to close as all employees from the Department of Education had been relocated to Manchester and the whole site was to be sold.   This was a terrible blow as the nursery had an outstanding Ofsted rating, great reputation and long waiting lists.  This meant that many families would be losing their chosen childcare and 20 staff their jobs.

When Jane approached me she was desperate to save the site and of course their jobs, after lots of research and phone calls it became apparent that it was a done deal.  I tried to negotiate the purchase or lease of the site but as it was part of a large office complex and it was to be sold with the rest of the estate.  So, we hatched a plan that we would attempt to merge with my existing nursery in Runcorn that was not at full capacity therefore possibly saving some jobs and offering an solution to the parents.

This took many months of careful planning and co-ordination as the closure was to be announced in May 2014 and the nursery was to close at the end of August 2014.  Until May it was confidential and was not in the public eye, so we were unable to act until then.

I worked closely with the Jane to plan the merger, we managed to employ all 20 staff and 67 families joined us we were thrilled to have achieved this.  Butterflies closed on Friday 29th August 2014 and they moved in with us on Monday 1st September 2014.  We were able to ensure continuity of care for all the children and families. 

In order for the merger to take place I needed to make a £40,000 investment into the Runcorn nursery to create bigger and better environment for the children.  Now nearly 4 years on I am delighted to say that the original staff team are still employed with us, and many of them have secured promotion within our company due to the growth.

With this I felt it was time to expand the business as I had always wanted to have a nursery in the Warrington area as this is my hometown and is where I live and grew up, I feel very passionate about the area. There are some wonderful buildings crying out for renovation. I was thrilled when the Bowling Green Pub on Old Liverpool Road came onto the Market in Jan 2014 it had been disused for about 18 months and was boarded up and in a poor state of repair with damage to the roof that had allowed a lot of water into the building. It was quite overwhelming at first as there was lots of mould and damp and it even had rats.  The building although it was in a bad state of repair fitted our business model and requirements.  It needed lots of vision to drive the project forward. We got to work designing plans and hiring local tradesmen to transform the building into the wonderful nursery it is today with an investment of around £250,000.  It is now registered for 55 children and employs over 20 local people and is rated Good in all areas by Ofsted it opened in March 2015.

After the success of our Warrington nursery I decided to repeat the model and were looking for an opportunity when the disused doctor’s surgery came to the market on Barrow Hall Lane, Great Sankey.  This building was not in the same state as the last but still needed significant investment to get it from a surgery into a nursery.  We hired local tradesmen to again transform the building into a 58-place nursery which opened in Sept 2015 with an investment of around £350,000. We now offer spaces to local children and employ 15 local staff.  This nursery is fast becoming one of the best nurseries in the area and I intend to keep investing to ensure its success.

In October 2017 we invested an additional £20,000 and extended our baby room at the Sankey site, at present we are having the outdoor play area re-developed at an additional £20,000 investment.

In November 2015 I was offered the opportunity to lease a 3G football pitch at Green Street, Warrington that had been unused for about 4 years when a new owner bought the building.  This took some careful consideration as it is not my field and does not fit our normal business model.  I decided that this could work both for me as I was living above the nursery in Old Liverpool Road (which is just across the road) and could also benefit the nursery giving us the use of some extra space for our children and staff to use.  This business is now doing well offering sessions to over 20 teams every week.  There is a variety of users including adults and children from local clubs and groups that rent it for exercise and training.


In November 2017 we hosted our very first Dunky’s Staff Awards Night which we introduced to enable us to formally recognise the amazing work our staff do each and every day.  We invited parents, children, colleagues and other agencies to nominate individuals for their contributions.  A panel reviewed the entries and winners were selected.  We were beaming with pride to hear what the parents, colleagues, customers and local agencies thought about our team and the work they do with the children.  The event was a huge success and a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  We had live entertainment, a barbecue and of course the awards that were presented.  Staff were given a certificate and gifts along with the speech that was read about their achievements and qualities.  We also had a special award for our ‘Star of the Year’ this was given to the member of staff that had shone above all others – she received £400 in addition to the certificate and gifts.


Staff retention at Dunkys is exceptional, with many staff reaching significant mile stones of length of service in 2017, this demonstrating we are an employer of choice for our workforce.

We have been working very closely in Warrington on an initiative delivered by Warrington Borough Council. The ‘Linking the Locks Project’ is a joint project between Warrington Borough Council, Halton Borough Council with specialist input from the Sankey Canal Restoration Society (SCARS).  At Dunky’s we have successfully employed staff who have been either long term unemployed or unemployed young adults and given them an opportunity to train and gain qualifications whilst being nurtured into a competent and qualified staff team.

In Halton we have worked very closely with Halton People into Jobs on a very similar initiative and since 2017 we have given 9 staff the opportunity to train in our nurseries and achieve a recognised childcare qualification. All of these staff have now secured permanent positions within our company.

As a team we are passionate about offering high quality placements for students to study in.  Every one of our nurseries employs a student co-coordinator who works with local colleges, sixth forms and schools. We offer both long term and short-term contracts to encourage and facilitate placements for students to grow and develop.

We are dedicated to work closely with supported employment partners offering paid employment to people with additional needs. We are proud to have been employing a lady who has Downs Syndrome ‘Debbie’ for the past 18 years, offering employment in a safe and nurturing environment she is a valued member of the team.

Fast forward now to 2018 were we now have 4 busy nurseries and a football pitch all operating well, and our latest challenges are about to start:

– We are purchasing the adjacent building within our site at Barrowhall Lane, Sankey – which was until recently a pharmacy that closed in February 2018 due to the business being moved.  We want to transform the pharmacy into an additional part of the nursery creating 32 extra places this would take us from a 58 place nursery to a 90 place Nursery and Out of school facility.  In the Sankey area there are not sufficient Out of School places to meet the needs of parents and families we hope to open the new building in June 2018. Local tradesmen will be employed to do the transformation and an investment of around £135,000.

– We are purchasing a doctor’s surgery in Thompson Avenue, Culcheth that will be closing down in May 2018 as the doctors are moving to another building on Jackson Avenue, Culcheth.  We intend to convert the building into a 55 place nursery and create around 20 new jobs offering places for children 0-5 years 52 weeks a year.  The investment for this project will be around £400,000 and once again local tradesmen will be employed.  We hope to open the nursery in August 2018.

Dunky’s has in place a business partnership scheme. It is completely free for all local business to join.  We then offer all their employees 5% discounted childcare and emergency childcare placements. This helps local business with sustainability as days should not be lost by their employees due to childcare as they can access all four of our nurseries on an ad-hoc basis when needed along with also providing discounted permanent childcare for children 0-11 years.

The company recognises that every family operates differently, and many parents now work shift patterns on a daily and weekly basis as well as term time contracts.  As a company it is important for us to recognise the ever changing needs of families and develop childcare packages which are tailor made to meet family’s needs so they are not being charged for childcare they do not want or need.  We have developed fully inclusive packages which include all meals, formula milk, nappies and consumables to make it easier for families each day.

All our Dunky’s Nurseries are committed to work above Ofsted expectations.  With this in mind a 100% of our staff team are trained in Paediatric First Aid and we are working towards 100% of our staff being level 3 or above qualified in childcare and Education we are currently operating over 90%.  Thus, raising the skill and education of the workforce in the area, we also employ 3 qualified teachers whom oversee our curriculum.

We have received recognition for the work we do in the form of many awards:

· Pre School Learning Alliance – Accreditation Award

· Halton and Warrington Healthy Eating Award

· 4* Excellence rating from EHO

· Business Partnership with Halton Award

· 4 Excellent Ofsted reports

· Oral Heath Award

· I Can Accreditation

· ECAT accreditation

· 100% of the workforce trained in Paediatric First Aid

· Baby Welcome Award

During the past 12 months we have raised our profile by:

· Creating new literature and brochures

· Launch of our Website

· Supporting and offering the 30 hours funded sessions from September 17

· Local advertising

· Links with local businesses

· Partnership working to encourage local people back into work in the local area.

· Purchase of local produce

We run a Charity of the Year Scheme –  Each nursery is required to run a variety of events throughout the year and the money raised is donated annually to the organisation or individual we may have chose and the company then matches the donation.  Some of the charities we have supported:

Little Hearts matter

Making Waves

Millie’s Trust

Walton Centre


Elody ….

We are sponsors for various local Football and Rugby teams and we also have links with Warrington Town Football club sponsoring matches etc.

Our vision for the future is to continue improving whilst growing into a profitable and sustainable business with the ability to provide employment opportunities for all.  We intend to continue to expand our business by opening more nurseries in and around the Warrington area possibly making use of buildings that are no longer in use adding to the profile of the town and creating local employment. 

Since starting the company in 2005 we have increased our employees from 4 to 65 and this will continue to grow to around 85 with the purchase of our new sites in 2018.  Our profits are rising, and we have proven to be sustainable as we have been able to gain support from our bank and funding has been made available to enable this growth.  We have many ideas on how we intend to survive during the current economic climate:

· Flexible childcare (hourly, daily, ad hoc)

· Partnerships with local businesses (discount packages)

· Funded places for 2, 3 & 4 year olds

· To be the best that we can be!!