For the women who need us most

For the women who need us most

I’m Werking On My…

I’m Werking On My…

Clare Roberts OBE, helping new mums return to work
By Charlotte Beever
Clare Roberts CEO of kids planet

In an exclusive interview, we look into the journey that took Clare Roberts to become the CEO of kids planet a chain of over 182 UK nurseries and, in turn, help working mothers everywhere.

After returning to work and struggling to find childcare that worked around her, mum of three Clare Roberts took matters into her own hands by starting kids planet a flexible day-care solution that, with determination and all-nighters, now has over 100 branches in England. 

Clare’s journey so far 

Back in 2008, when Clare was expecting her first child, she was working her way up at a pharmaceuticals company: “I was a rep, then I was a sales trainer, then I became an area manager where I managed a team of about 20 reps across the north of England”.

Her career was going from strength to strength but with a newborn, she had a lot more on her plate. “I’d looked around Nurseries and found it really difficult to find somewhere that opened early enough in the morning; with the job that I had, I travelled a lot and all the nurseries, at that point in 2008, seemed to open at eight o’clock and it was like who can drop a baby at a nursery at eight o’clock and get to where they need to get to and most people work in Manchester or Liverpool where I lived at that point, and it’s a good hour commute in good traffic so it dawned on me that there must be a bit of a niche in the market with some of these problems I was facing.”

The company was going through a mass restructuring while she was on maternity leave and struggling to find adequate childcare. “They said they’d make adaptations in terms of my work, but it’s like all these things: People say that, and then if things don’t go well, it’s the fact that you’ve made those changes that they used against you.”

Clare was told that the company was asking people to volunteer for redundancy. “It just suddenly dawned on me that I was probably likely to have the North West and the Midlands; with a young baby, I was a bit like, do I really want to do this? So I don’t know, literally overnight, I decided to take voluntary redundancy. I knew I was pretty protected because I was on maternity leave, so they would pay me all my bonus and give me good pay, and it gave me a bit of time to do what I wanted to do.”

With her father’s support, Kids Planet was born. “My Dad had a nursery group when I was growing up, so I had worked in a nursery while I was a student, so I knew what working in a nursery was all about. My Dad had sold his nursery by this point, and I convinced him that we should start together, so we decided in about April or May 2008 that we were going to sort of have a go.”

Clare started off managing one of the kids planet nurseries when she decided to go back to university. “There was something called early years professional status, So I decided that I was going to enrol while starting Kids Planet; I thought if we’re going to ask people to aspire to do this, I should do it and understand what it means and what it’s all about.” 

Clare Roberts First Nursery
Kids Planet Nursery

This decision to return to university whilst managing her first nursery and the demands of motherhood was a bit of a juggling act. “When I look back, that year was a bit crazy. I had a nine-month-old baby, and I remember getting up at five o’clock in the morning and doing two hours of work before Izzy woke up. That first year, I used to work a 60-hour week and go to university, but I probably learned so much by being really invested in doing that.”

The first time around at university, Clare said she “probably didn’t work as hard as I should have done”, and going back was totally different. “I went back a day a week, I did a full day in university. I was probably like a typical mature student that I used to roll my eyes at who were on my course, who were very hard working and there with a purpose, so it is totally different. I think you’re doing it because you want to do it rather than just going through a process that everyone tends to fall on, the rat race, really.”

Clares echoes that, “Yes, it’s hard to go back and be a mature student, but actually, the benefits of doing it are immense. I think we all have to work a very long time now in our lives, and actually, if you don’t enjoy something, there’s always a way to change it; you just need to find the opportunity and work out what you could do.”

Rethinking Employer Approaches

Kids Planet Celebrating 100 nursery's
100 Kids Planet Nursery celebration

Clare’s hands-on approach to leadership has been a big part of her success. Reflecting on the challenges she faced throughout her journey, Clare was adamant about providing for others what she needed when she had her first child. When deciding on her business model, she was determined to focus on helping other women return to work. “Childcare is expensive, and one of the barriers for people returning to work is affordability, so we have enhanced maternity, paternity, fertility, and adoption benefits for people.” As well as this, her employees receive up to 80% discount when using her facilities and also one-month free childcare on return from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave, “by giving them that month free, they get paid before they have to start covering costs.” Clare is not just changing the game in childcare facilities but also championing the cause of working mothers.

In 2018, Clare founded the Kids Planet Training Academy, which has achieved main provider status on the Register of Accredited Training Providers (RoATP). The academy provides courses from apprenticeships at level two to post-degree levels. The programmes focus on supporting learners from diverse backgrounds, cultures, ages, and stages of life.

Kids Planet Training Academy

Clare said she feels really passionate about being in a position “to enable people to have a career path that they can aspire to, and if they want to, qualifications to do whilst they’re working. Not everyone wants to do high-level qualifications, but it removes that barrier, and actually, it’s like how people do apprenticeships now in the workplace. It means people can progress and develop.”

Supporting mums in the workforce

Recognising the challenges that new mums face when re-entering the workplace, Clare applied her own experience when deciding on the provisions that she would supply; being very aware that limited opening times do not accommodate everyone, she has created longer opening hours with an aim to aid working mothers who, as she did, have a long commute to get to and from work. As a working mother, she understands how busy life can be and decided that her nurseries would be ‘All Inclusive’, meaning that things like meals, baby formula and nappies are included in the childcare costs, removing the task of thinking about what to take when parents are dropping off their little ones.

When it comes to costs, Clare furnishes the parents with all the information they need (and might be unaware of) to understand government schemes they may be entitled to, such as funded and/or tax-free childcare eligibility. She aims to help working mothers like herself make the transition back to work as easy and affordable as possible.

Recognising achievements

In 2017, Clare’s contributions were recognised with the award ‘Female Icon Entrepreneur’ and ‘North West Women of the Year SME’ from Barclays Bank Plc. With the ultimate responsibility for the care and education of over 20,000 children, Clare is clearly doing something game-changing.

Further accolades have followed, with the most impressive being named on the 2022 Queen’s Honours list and receiving an OBE for services to education and childcare. In her acceptance note, she dedicated the honour to all her colleagues for the “incredible work they do for children each and every day.”

We aspire to see more employers adopt Clare’s approach to her employees and service users, particularly in empowering mothers returning to work.