The London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) is a charitable social enterprise that runs 40 nurseries across London, many of which are intentionally sited in disadvantaged areas of the city. LEYF was first set up in 1903 as the City of Westminster Health Society and continues to take a socially inclusive approach to make a difference to the lives of over 4,000 children and their families every year.

We spoke with June O’Sullivan MBE, Chief Executive of LEYF, to find out more about the impact of the organisation.

What challenge was the inspiration for your project?

Countless research studies show how crucial the first five years of a child’s life is in shaping their future health, wellbeing and job prospects. As well as having significant impact on their social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, high-quality Early Years education can mitigate some of the disadvantages that those from poorer backgrounds are likely to face.

But the sad reality is that many children from disadvantaged backgrounds, or families struggling with poverty, are unable to access a high-quality nursery.

Our social purpose is to give children the best start in life by providing access to high-quality, affordable Early Years education and care within the communities we serve.

What was your innovation that addresses this problem?

Everything we do at LEYF nurseries is underpinned by the LEYF Pedagogy, which is our teaching and learning model that gives all children a strong start regardless of their background. Focused on seven strands, the LEYF Pedagogy is inspired by a wide range of international research into young children’s learning and development, alongside emerging knowledge from the field of neuroscience.

We welcome all children into our nurseries, irrespective of their social background or ability, and champion diversity across our staff team as we firmly believe children need role models from all walks of life.

We currently support over 4,000 children through our nurseries across 12 London boroughs. The surplus generated from those in more affluent areas is used to subsidise places for children from low-income households in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods – both within the same nursery or from one nursery to another – broadening access to high-quality Early Years education and encouraging children to build friendships with others from different backgrounds.

What impact has Triodos Bank had on your organisation?

The £1.5 million charity bond offer from Triodos Bank is one of the first steps in our forward-thinking plans to raise finance and philanthropic donations in support of our goal to scale the number of children and families we support. Over time, the funds will be used to acquire and integrate new nurseries into the LEYF family, many of which would not be attractive to ‘for-profit’ nursery providers. Since launching the bond, we have already started to put the financing to use – in November 2022, we welcomed a nursery in Hither Green into the LEYF family.

What impact has your organisation had on the sector you work in?

More than three-quarters of our nurseries are in the ‘most deprived’ and ‘deprived’ areas of London. Those nurseries provide high-quality education and care to the children while also going above and beyond to support their families and local communities. We consistently achieve high Ofsted ratings, with over 50% of our nurseries rated ‘Outstanding’ versus 20% on average in London.

We’ve achieved this by having strong core values (Brave, Inspiring, Nurturing, Fun), principles and policies, supported by the LEYF Pedagogy, which is our unique approach that supports children’s learning.

What impact has your organisation had on the community?

The Westminster Health Society was a true pioneer in supporting child welfare, offering training in professional childcare, outreach and home visits, along with drop-in sessions and classes in parenting long before the NHS was established.

Today, this legacy lives on through LEYF. Our nurseries are at the heart of local communities, making a real difference to the lives of children and their families. By supporting parents back to work, generating jobs for young people and campaigning for fair Early Years policies, LEYF is helping whole communities to thrive, now and in the future.

Everything we do at LEYF is driven by a passion to enable each child to be the best they can be through wonderful experiences that enrich and extend their learning.

How does Triodos Bank share your vision?

Triodos Bank’s mission to help create a society that protects and promotes inclusion and equality very much echoes our own ethos. As well as directly impacting the communities we serve, research shows that a solid Early Years education benefits society as a whole.