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17 Jan 2023

Spotlight on Abbie Smith, Just Imagine Day Nursery (Family First)

Spotlight on Abbie Smith, Just Imagine Day Nursery (Family First)
Abbie manages the Ofsted 'Outstanding' nursery Just Imagine, where she led the team to win the NMT award for Community Nursery of the Year 2022.

What made you choose nursery work? How did you get into it?

I thought I’ll either go down the childcare route or the animal care route – I was really interested in children since a young age. I never expected to become a manager because I was too scared of Ofsted! But as I climbed up the ladder, I thought I can push myself further – and it’s everything I expected it to be and more.

It’s challenging but it’s worthwhile and the thing I like the most is making a difference in the children’s lives every day – we’re a deprived nursery so that is what we do every day.

It must be incredibly rewarding.

Oh 100% – for instance, this Christmas we’ve given nine of our most vulnerable families their Christmas meal. We packed up a food parcel with all the fresh ingredients and a leaflet on how to cook it – so it takes a weight off their shoulders, and they can use that money for electricity or whatever they need it for.

What is the best thing about your job?

My head office know that we are a community nursery and we know the children best, so the best part is having that freedom. For example, we realised the children weren’t getting the physical exercise they need – they live in flats – so we started a ‘borrow a bike’ scheme. We come up with these schemes and then we just run with it – and I can see that it’s making a difference. That’s what keeps me going.

What are you most proud of?

In terms of staff, I’m most proud of supporting their mental health. I’m proud of the empathy I have towards the staff, the children and the parents – because without that, I can’t push forward and meet their needs. I’ve had the DWP in to help a staff member with their PIP claim, and a social justice coach in to help a parent get the correct benefits. We’re not just teaching children; we’re helping them holistically.

It must be an intense job.

It’s so intense – I go home and I don’t stop, I never switch off. But we’ve got people in our head office whose sole job is mental health, so I do tap into them every now and again. It’s not unmanageable though – it’s very rewarding.

How do you unwind at the end of a busy shift?

Netflix, and seeing my family. TV is always good for that switch-off time; I’ll get cosy on the sofa, hot chocolate, blanket, and I’m away!

What is the best mid-shift snack?

If a staff member is going to the shop and asks “do you want anything?” I will get a Kinder Bueno and a Pepsi Max Cherry, all day long. My staff just know, so sometimes they don’t even ask, they just come back with it.

What would be your message to nursery managers across the UK reading this?

Go with the flow, never doubt your worth, and always remember how important you are. Even on tough days, you’re making a difference regardless of if you know it or not. And on those days where you don’t want to get out of bed, you’re going to change someone’s life just by walking into work. So remember to pat yourself on the back.



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