Outstanding nurseries will continue to Thrive under new owners

The award-winning Village Nursery Group, which hit the milestone of caring for more than 1,000 children last year, has become part of Thrive Childcare and Education.

Founded in 2005 in Alsager, near Stoke-on-Trent, by Julie and Ian Lightley, when they were seeking a nursery where children come first for their own family, the Village Nursery Group has grown as the couple acquired and invested in developing their nurseries.

Julie explained how they found Thrive’s values matched their own ethos of putting children first, with Thrive sharing the same commitment to children, families and communities and to being the local nursery of choice.

Village Nursery Group acquisition

With the Village Nursery Group becoming part of Thrive Childcare and Education, the Thrive Group now provides more than 40 nurseries across North-West England and Scotland.

Thrive CEO Cary Rankin said: “Village Nursery Group is an incredible group of nurseries, all with either “good” or “outstanding” Ofsted ratings. Julie and Ian have invested in developing great facilities and a fantastic and committed team, who we look forward to working with.”

Julie said: “As our group has grown, we have retained the individual names and character of the nurseries because they are very much part of the communities they serve. When we were talking vision and values with Thrive, it was clear they shared this commitment to ensuring each nursery meets the needs of its local community.”

Julie and Ian bought their first two Townhouse Nurseries in Alsager after their daughter Jessica, now an apprentice nursery nurse within the group, was born. Ian’s background in finance ensured a sound financial footing.

When they started, Julie said, they were fortunate to have an extremely skilled and knowledgeable team. They realised childcare needed experienced and inspirational leaders.

“We were blown away when we took the nurseries on,” Julie said. “I had found my passion and wanted to lead by example, so I studied for an Early Years degree in Manchester, followed by a Masters Degree in Birmingham, which Emma Jones, our Operations Director, and I managed to achieve together. I realised continuous learning was essential.”

A year later, Julie and Ian bought Trafford Park Nursery in Manchester, which they doubled in size. Nurseries in Warrington, Knutsford, Congleton and Crewe followed, with some being saved from closure.

The group’s success has been recognised by many awards: Townhouse Nurseries won the National NMT Community Nursery of the Year Award in 2021. Team members were finalists in several categories, while The Quays in Warrington was also shortlisted for a number of awards. Both Townhouse Nurseries in Alsager and Astbury Lane Nursery in Congleton currently have “Outstanding” ratings from Ofsted.

As the Village Nursery Group continued to grow, Julie and Ian realised it was time for support from a larger group to continue to develop their beloved nurseries, investing in the local and management teams and ensuring they have the resources to succeed.

“As the group has grown, taking it forward requires so much more energy and investment –in time and money,” Julie explained.

“After 17 years, with our three children growing up, we want some time for ourselves, without talking about nurseries, and valued time to spend with our family.”

Julie said it was a tough decision, but she knows the nurseries are in good hands, with her long-serving Director of Operations Emma Jones remaining with Thrive to ensure continuity and a smooth transition.

“I really love the people we have worked with. We have nurtured and mentored the management team so they could deliver what the nursery teams needed to support and have a positive impact on the children,” Julie explained.

“Going into the nurseries and seeing the happy faces of the children and the staff being so inspired and enthusiastic to share their learning journey has been a joy.

“The teams have shown great resilience during the turbulence of Covid-19, they were there to support every family and child and help the nurseries to bounce back and become stronger. I know they will continue to thrive.”


Any nursery owners interested in selling their nursery, or who would like to have a conversation to explore the process, are invited to speak with Thrive’s acquisitions team by contacting Brian Li at  [email protected].