Education group enters nursery market with acquisition spree

A Manchester-based provider of primary education services and sports programmes has moved into the day nursery market.

The Little Sports Group (LSG) has made a number of acquisitions in the childcare sector, the first of which saw it take over Northfield Under 5’s in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, in a deal arranged by Bury-based Abacus Day Nursery Sales.

LSG bought the business from its founder, John Armstrong, and has taken over the lease on the premises from which it operates. Mr Armstrong, who has retired following the sale, initially established the business as a pre-school in 1993, and expanded it to provide a full day care offering in 2013.

Northfield Under 5’s was rated ‘Good’ by the childcare regulator Ofsted at its most recent inspection and is registered to provide 50 full-time childcare places. It currently has 110 children on its books and employs 19 childcare staff and a chef.

The Little Sports Group provides primary education services and sports and physical activity programmes through its various brands, which include LSC, Tots FC and FC Academy. It was founded 16 years ago by its chief executive, Craig Brennan, and the programmes it delivers now engage with more than 22,000 children every week.

Northfield Under 5’s was the group’s first investment in the day nursery sector. It has since bought a further five childcare businesses, one in Leeds, one in Wakefield, one in Stoke-on-Tent, and two in Manchester.

LSG has appointed an operations director, Rebecca Casserley, following its acquisition of these businesses, which, between them, are registered with Ofsted to provide a total of 354 childcare places at any one time. Ms Casserly has a background working for a variety of childcare providers, and will work across all of the group’s settings.

Moving into the childcare market was the next logical step for LSG, Mr Brennan said, because the regulation of day nurseries is similar to that which governs the provision of out-of-school clubs and holiday course programmes, which form a significant element of the group’s existing business.

Northfield Under 5’s was chosen as LSG’s first day care investment, Mr Brennan added, because it fitted the group’s three main criteria: “It had to be rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, it had to have a good staff team with management in place, and it had to offer good outdoor space, because we think it is really important to provide that for children. Getting active and being outside will be a big focus for all our settings, in addition to providing outstanding EYFS curriculum and care.”

Craig Brennan

The acquisition, along with LSG’s other recent day nursery purchases, was self-funded. Corporate legal advice was provided by JMW Solicitors, while the property element of the transaction was handled by John Galvin of Clifford Johnston & Co Solicitors.

Following the acquisition, LSG plans to carry out some renovation of the Northfield Under 5’s premises, and expects to rebrand the business at some point, although it has no immediate plans to do so.

The group is actively looking for other day nursery businesses based in the North West or Yorkshire, areas in which LSG’s education business already has a strong footprint, to add to its portfolio.

Chelsea Melnyk, client manager at Abacus Day Nursery Sales, a specialist division of Blacks Business Brokers, said: “I am really happy to have been able to help Craig and The Little Sports Group take their first step into the childcare market sector while also enabling our client to fulfil his retirement plans.
“The market for day nurseries is really buoyant at the moment, with new entrants like The Little Sports Group coming in, as well as existing operators looking to build their businesses.

“I am also pleased to have been able to secure continuity for the parents, children and staff at Northfield Under 5’s, with a new owner who is committed to investing in the premises and building a business that has excellent, stimulating childcare at its heart.”