Jo Watson: A Journey from Finance to Childcare Excellence

Published by Gary Ellis on May 20th 2024, 4:04pm

Jo Watson went from the bustling world of finance to the nurturing halls of Scallywags as its Company Director. 

“My background is all in business and finance,” Jo begins, recounting her early days immersed in the intricacies of reinsurance, mortgages, and life insurance. With qualifications in business studies and accounts, she was a financial force from the tender age of 18.

But it was the birth of her first daughter that marked a turning point. “I decided to set up a business consultancy that provided more family time,” she explains. Leveraging her expertise, Jo assisted businesses in honing their marketing strategies and scrutinising their financial health. “There’s a lot of people who are very good at their profession,” she observes, “but actually running a business can be a completely different kettle of fish.”

Her foray into National Lottery grants revealed a knack for numbers that transcended mere financial planning. “I’m very maths minded,” she admits, a trait that served her well in navigating the complex world of grant applications. It wasn’t long before local authorities took notice, propelling her into the realm of childcare with a request that would change her life’s direction.

With a government grant and a vision to provide quality child care in deprived areas, Jo embarked on a whirlwind project that transformed a soft play centre into an outstanding day nursery in just five months. “I absolutely loved it,” she says, her passion for the venture evident.

The success of her first nursery led to the creation of Scallywags, a 117-place day nursery that quickly earned accolades for its excellence. But Jo’s journey didn’t stop there. Her commitment to her team and the community is clear as she shares, “I gifted directorships of another nursery to the three managers at Scallywags. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.”

Jo’s Business Acumen

For Jo, the most daunting task was launching three nurseries from the ground up, particularly her largest one, which started as nothing more than a field. The financial journey was fraught with risks, from securing bridging loans to shouldering debt. “Risk-taking is a huge part of being a business owner,” Jo reflects, acknowledging the nerve-wracking nature of entrepreneurship.

Jo’s commitment extends beyond business success to making a meaningful impact on children’s lives, regardless of their background. “It’s a gift that I can give,” she says, driven by a family ethos of helping others. This philosophy shapes her approach to childcare, where she strives to provide the best start in life for all children.

Her mother’s influence as a councillor specialising in children’s welfare resonates with Jo’s belief in the importance of early years education. “By the time a child’s 5, they’re growing towards being hardwired,” she explains, underscoring the critical role of early childhood development in shaping future perspectives on education and life.

Jo draws parallels between her educational experiences and her mission in childcare. She celebrates the changes in the education system that now afford every child the opportunity to achieve a GCSE, levelling the playing field. Similarly, her nurseries aim to offer equal opportunities, especially in the more deprived areas where government funding and her team’s dedication can make a profound difference.

Cultivating Community and Values

Jo views her work as more than just education—it’s a social mission. “It’s a complete social experience,” she explains, highlighting the importance of teaching children basic social skills, such as dining etiquette, which they might not learn at home. This approach is about more than just manners; it’s about preparing them for the wider world.

For Jo, instilling British values is paramount, especially in a multicultural society. “I am the grandchild of an immigrant,” she shares, revealing a personal connection to the diverse backgrounds of the children she serves. Her nurseries celebrate cultural differences, teaching children to appreciate various traditions while fostering a sense of unity. Her nurseries introduce children to different languages and cultures, with language teachers and themed weeks that immerse the children in global traditions.

Jo’s commitment to her social vision is evident in her hands-on approach. Despite not working directly in the rooms, she remains deeply involved in the nurseries’ operations. Her dedication even led her to complete a Level 3 NVQ in childcare, further demonstrating her resolve to provide the best for the children under her care.

What's more, Jo's values and community spirit shine outside of her work, as exemplified with the Medway Help for Ukrainians charity she set up following Russia's invasion. Describing it as "one of my life's greatest achievements," the charity helps Ukrainian citizens entering the UK and staying in Medway, and Jo hopes to build on it with future trustee roles within larger charities.

Leadership Through Vision and Empowerment: Jo Watson’s Philosophy

Watson’s definition of leadership emerges as a blend of vision, empowerment, and empathy. “Before you start anything, you must have a vision,” Jo asserts. She believes in bringing people together, leveraging their strengths, and fostering a collaborative environment where everyone’s contributions are valued.

Jo’s hands-on experiences have shaped her inclusive approach to leadership. “There is nothing at my nursery that I would not do,” she states, reflecting her willingness to lead by example. This ethos has cultivated a strong community spirit within her team, evident in the low staff turnover and the loyalty of her employees.

Her leadership extends beyond professional duties; it encompasses a commitment to the well-being of her staff and their families. The Scallywag Company Director has implemented a robust mental health support system, ensuring that her team can access counselling services and never miss important family moments. “We have a very strong mental health support system at nursery,” she explains, highlighting the importance of support and flexibility in the workplace.

Jo’s philosophy is also influenced by the Danish concept of ‘hygge’, which she integrates into the nursery’s ethos. Hygge focuses on creating a warm, welcoming environment that promotes well-being and contentment, akin to the comfort one feels on a cosy, rainy day at home. This approach aims to make children feel secure and happy, which Jo believes is the foundation for effective learning and development.

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Authored By

Gary Ellis
Senior Editor
May 20th 2024, 4:04pm

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