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Episode #1


Jeannie & Stewart Pickering


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“If you believe you’re doing something right, you weave your way through with honesty and integrity” 

Jeannie Pickering

About Jeannie & Stewart:

This pair of hippies (really they lived in a commune in the 60s) who became entrepreneurs are sharing their incredible journey in our first Back To The Garden podcast. 


Everything they did came from a place of integrity and passion to create something that didn’t exist in this county. Starting with their first Kidsunlimited nursery in the 80s in Wilmslow, they then were the first company to create workplace nurseries, including collaborating with Anita Roddick, the powerhouse who founded The Body Shop.

Training was also vital and we’ll discover how they created a training that then became NVQ’s, allowing women returners to become empowered, this programme won the Secretary Of State award and is now part of the NVQ model. 

Design was key as Jeannie believes the environment is ‘the third teacher’. Working with renowned architect Roger Stephenson their innovative spaces won awards. They were part of the Hulme Regeneration project creating the St Mary’s nursery making childcare accessible to the community there. They have strong roots and built something from humble beginnings and changed the face of childcare in the UK, ending up with 64 nurseries across the country.

Their drive came from pure passion to create the best possible spaces for children to grow and be nurtured. Drawing inspiration from the Reggio Emilia approach the goal was to have child was at the centre of their philosophy with a focus on creativity, outdoor play and treating each child as an individual.

This story is interesting to not only those in the childcare sector and parents but to anyone who has a dream. 

Yes, there were ups and downs but they came back fighting because it was all born from a belief with the child at the centre. Every step of the way each achievement came from a lack of something in the sector and this is why they were considered trail blazers who changed the future of childcare forever.

We discuss their incredible journey from Kidsunlimited to the present day where they now founded a new nursery, Back To The Garden Childcare with the McGoff Group.


Now, here they are as the ‘forever young’ elders. 
All elders have stories and this one is a real gem.


“The nursery is a family of parents, children and staff.”

Stewart Pickering

In This Episode We Talk About:

1:21 Their earliest memory or a pivotal moment in childhood.


3:39 The reasons behind them starting Kidsunlimited and how they couldn’t find what they needed so they created it themselves. 


4:57 The Yin and Yang of working together as a couple and how their strengths complemented each other. 


5:43 The philosophy behind their creative approach where the child is at the centre and the importance of a great staff team and environment. 


8:30 Breakthrough moments with parents. We hear 2x stories of important moments where educating the parent is key. 


11:22 A time when they made a difference with a child - how they managed a child that really didn’t want to be at nursery and they share a funny story.


13:54 Why Wilmslow was chosen as the location for the first nursery, how they overcame issues with neighbours and achieved planning permission. The new skills Jeannie needed to develop in order to achieve this. 


18:05 What the biggest challenge was in the Kidsunlimited ‘early years’. The hurdles and resistance they overcame in order to grow.


20:15 The very beginnings of the workplace nursery in the UK and how this was the key to their expansion, why this allowed them to grow without needing to go back to the bank for more funding.


22:49 Working with Anita Roddick, The Body Shop founder. How Jeannie cold called her “selling purely on belief and passion that we could offer something they would want”. The nursery there was set up in 1993 with an environmental philosophy. At this stage the couple became almost pop stars in the childcare sector, featuring on breakfast TV and asked to speak at conferences. 

“Aesthetics are important for children, parents and staff. They all need to flourish and then it becomes a community.”


25:33 The importance of environment and design. How the Reggio Emilia approach inspired them. Each building has its own design. Jeannie’s trip to Italy to visit The Diana Preschool there. The ‘Home bases’ concept.

“Kids Unlimited, for example, won a RIBA award last year for its St Mary's Court Yard nursery in Manchester's Hulme regeneration area. Converted by architects Stephenson Bell from a burnt-out, but still elegant Victorian building, the nursery boasts such innovative features as a 'dance balcony' and a craft atelier.” - Jenny Benjamin, Nursery World piece Made To Measure, 2001


30:37 Architecture, working with Roger Stephenson and the RIBA Award. Finding inspiration in Holland and Germany. Introducing flow into spaces, the indoors to outdoors and the creative Ateliers. The Hume Regeneration Project where Barbara McLoughlin who ran the project said that Hulme ‘needs a nursery’. How they transformed a derelict church, against all odds, into a space which served the local community. It was an important time for the Pickering duo to balance their way of working and make great childcare available to all. It was about giving back. 


34:36 Growth and Training. How Kidsunlimited created an NNEB course for the workplace. They achieved a National Training award in 1990. Here they discuss the balance of college trained nursery nurses averaging age of 17/18 with women who have the experience of bringing up children themselves, having a balance of all ages and the attributes each age group bring, valuing all members of staff.


38:37 Leaps of faith and risk taking. In 1988 they almost lost the company and had to fight to protect it. Here we find out how they overcame this and the lessons they learnt. 


42:04 Family and Business. How to find balance running a business and having their own family with 2 children to look after. 


44:49 What was the biggest concern back then and how did they resolve it? Also the biggest concern now and their mission to resolve it for this generation? Here we discuss technology and outdoor play.


47:04 Work, Age and Retirement. In their 70s we discover what led the dynamic duo to re-enter the childcare sector after all these years and their views on retirement are.


48:41 Broadheath Nursery. The current nursery concept for ‘Back To The Garden Childcare’. The relationship with their co-founders ‘The McGoff Group’, a family run business, and how they worked together previously during the Kidsunlimited years on the Hulme project. Why the concept hasn’t had to change much since the 80s/90s.


52:07 Intergenerational Care. The McGoff group also run Care Homes (New Care) We discuss the benefits of Intergenerational Care - I referenced Bristol based David Williams, CEO of St Monica Trust who participated in ‘Old Peoples Homes for 4 Year Olds’ on Channel4.  I heard him on ‘The Road To Outstanding’ Care Podcast. 


52:37 Let’s talk Lymm. The 2nd nursery will be in Lymm. Which will be adjacent to an elderly care home. With shared areas for optional time spent together, for example growing veg. We discuss how The Tipi is a Back To The Garden signature piece.


54:07 Music and Lyrics. Why the name Back To The Garden was chosen and the meaning behind the name Kidsunlimited. 


55:30 Rapid fire series: 
- Their message to future generations.


- If money, logistics and time were no object what would they create for children. 

- What universal lessons could be taught to children all over the world? Jeannie referenced The Dalai Lama quote: "If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

- The biggest myth around child development. People underestimate the power of a babies mind. We referenced Babies on Netflix. 

- What rights children should innately have.

- Their Favourite book on child development, parenting or business. The ‘100 Languages of Children’ and Anita Roddicks ‘Business As Usual’.

- Favourite quotes: “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” - Winnie The Pooh / “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Chinese Proverb. The use of quotes in the nursery to emphasise the philosophy.

- What’s the key to success? How the staff team are the key to theirs. 


“This goes for over the years when we ran Kidsunlimited and now. We would be nowhere without the amazing staff that we employed and employ now. They are the key to our success.”

Jeannie Pickering

Episode Resource Links:

Reggio Emilia Approach


Roger Stephensons Summerfields Nursery 


Roger Stephensons St Marys Nursery 


Ikigai Japanese Philosophy


Klean Kanteen Drinking Container


The McGoff Group


New Care


David Williams


Old Peoples Homes for 4 Year Olds Channel4


St Monica Trust


Podcast with David Williams


Babies on Netflix


100 Languages Of Children Book


‘Business As Usual’ - Anita Roddick

Thank you for listening to our very first episode!! 

We’d be so grateful if you could take 2 minutes to leave us a review on your preferred podcast app. 

Please share with anyone who you think would love to listen.


This episode is sponsored by Kit + Kin, award winning nappies - head to and enter the code BABY20 specially created for our listeners to use on the first subscription.  

Recorded at LBS, Stockport.

Producer: Simon Galloway

Original Music written by Sadie Pickering, performed by Sadie Pickering, Dan J Logan and Jay Ansill


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