Our children and our garden
In North London, tucked behind tall office buildings and St George's Garden walls, is a tiny nursery called Collingham Gardens Nursery, seemingly hidden from the rest of London. The place is unique, not just because of its outstanding Ofsted report and parent testimonials; it is extraordinary because:
It is set up as a charity committed to being open to everyone. The fees for sending children here is based on their parents' or guardians' income.
It is a parent-led nursery; parents form the management committee voluntarily, hire the staff, including the manager, and supports them in running the noisy, messy machine.
And perhaps most importantly, Collingham Gardens is the steward of a beautiful garden, so rare in the urban heart of London, situated between Coram Fields and the St Georges Garden.
At this nursery, children are not contained indoors instead, the ethos is for the children to enjoy a vast and adventurous open-air classroom where they learn about nature, plants, bugs, mud, climbing, and building. The nursery also has a strong tradition in forest school.
'The most important classroom has a sky for its ceiling'
Parents are encouraged to participate in gardening days with the children, getting involved in their preschool learning with nature; the parents also organise the yearly fete to raise much-needed funds.
A few years ago, I accidentally found this place while searching for the messiest possible place to send my son to preschool. It wasn't an easy venue for us to get to, involving a 20 minutes bicycle ride each way for the three years we went there, but it was worth it. During our time there, I was a member of the management committee and dragged the Unagru design team into a commitment to assisting with this exceptional place.
As a company, we have dedicated hours of time pro bono to preparing a grant application to fund much-needed maintenance works over the last year. With the support of the managers and other parents, after a long wait, we have finally succeeded, and we have now obtained £67,000 (sixty-seven thousand!) from Camden Council. The works include new plumbing throughout the building, a new kitchen, new doors and garden equipment, alongside a complete maintenance overhaul to the whole building's envelope. As a team, we will continue our support and offer our time to follow the construction stage too, which will probably unfold in phases during the long holiday breaks.
Others will help with this project: London Building Control will provide their services free of charge, and the contractors Expand and Build agreed to carry out the work at a discounted price. We thank them for their generosity.
Aaaand, it doesn't end here: we will carry on working with Collingham. The next phases will extend the building to create a new utility pavilion (a messy nursery needs factory-grade washing machines!). Although my son has moved on to school now, this place still holds an extraordinary place for my whole family. I am proud to be able to give back to a place that nurtured his messy curiosity, opening his eyes to the wonders of nature within London.