On the blog we are taking a deeper look at our national winners, and what it is that makes them so special. Each week two different winners’ profiles will be posted, so keep checking back for more rural business success stories!

The winner of the Best Rural Education or Training Business Award for 2018/19 is Mini Explorers Nursery! This early years childcare-provider, located in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, is the UK’s first farm-based nursery. Judges commented on their fantastic approach to early childcare, which neatly integrates the natural benefits of the rural environment. They were impressed by the way the business has clearly identified a need, and by its clear ambitions to grow and develop.

Founded in 2012 by Steph Pybus, Mini Explorers is situated on Steph’s husband’s 260-acre family-farm at Crabtree Hall. The idea for the nursery came about as Steph, a mother of six, dreamed of a nursery for her own children that would offer the same carefree, outdoor lifestyle they led at home.

Unable to find a local nursery to fit the bill, Steph decided to create one for herself. She sold her textiles business and took over the tenancy of some converted stables to create a farming focused childcare nursery at the heart of the Pybus’ fully working farm.

Her passionate belief in the importance of exposing children to the great outdoors and teaching them about farming from a young age has been backed up by numerous studies which have documented the huge benefits of allowing children unlimited access to a natural outdoor environment and of encouraging animal interaction and risk-taking form an early age. These beliefs are central to the ethos of the Mini Explorers Nursery.

Rather than following an existing early-years educational model, like the forest school model, Steph and Mini Explorers Nursery have crafted an entirely new one, built around the farming calendar, lifestyle and landscape. This is what makes her business so completely unique.

The children who go to Mini Explorers Nursery have the freedom to roam the fields, groom ponies, feed sheep, collect eggs, dabble in ponds, clamber over logs and ditches and hitch a ride home for lunch in a tractor.

From that germ of an idea, the nursery has flourished, growing from only five children and seven staff in 2012, to more than 130 children and 27 staff in 2018! Not only is the nursery now providing valuable employment opportunities to its local rural community, it is also allowing hundreds of local families and their children to enjoy, appreciate and immerse themselves in an otherwise largely-inaccessible farming world.

Another benefit is that the nursery has become a valuable and much-needed new revenue stream and focus for a traditional, small-scale family-run arable farm. Hopefully, this will help the farm to maintain its viability and profitability for generations to come.

Mini Explorers Nursery values the dedication and enthusiasm of its staff, and employs local people wherever possible. It is also committed to actively supporting the continuous training and development of its staff; half of it’s practitioners have either attained or are working towards a bachelor degree in Early Years Education – a percentage that is exceptional within the sector.

Steph is passionate about supporting other rural businesses. As a result, the nursery kitchens source local, seasonal produce, and the business uses local suppliers wherever it can. Over the past few years, they have also partnered with like-minded businesses to champion the rural way of life. For 2018, they worked with Brymore Ice Cream (one of Yorkshire’s most iconic exports) to create an ongoing educational initiative which allows the children at the nursery to care for and raise Brymore’s Guernsey calves on the farm.

Mini Explorers Nursery has big ambitions for the future. Their long-term vision is to franchise out their Farm School model and curriculum. They hope to one day realise their dream of revolutionising early years childcare provision, and make Farm Schools accessible to children throughout the UK.

“We are thrilled to have won the Rural Business Award for the Best Rural Education or Training Business category. Education is at the heart of what we do at Mini Explorers Nursery, and our children are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the farming landscape and its inhabitants every single day. We are passionate about the impact that the outdoors can have on a child’s well-being and development, and are so pleased that the Rural Business Awards saw something special in us.” – Steph Pybus, director of Mini Explorers Nursery.

To find out more about Mini Explorers, visit their website: www.miniexplorersnursery.co.uk

To see all the blogs in this series on the winners of the 2018/19 National Rural Business Awards, click here.

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