Barking nursery 'would welcome' contact from first intake as it celebrates 18th birthday

Sarah Hawkins and Leah Clarke at the Ilford South Business Awards 2021

Leah and Sarah at the Ilford South Business Awards 2021 - Credit: Barney Bear’s Nursery

A Barking nursery has celebrated nearly two decades caring for children in the community.

Sarah Hawkins and Leah Clarke founded Barney Bear’s Nursery in Upney Lane some 18 years ago - on April 26, 2004 - after meeting as students at Barking and Dagenham College.

The business now has branches in West Ham, Chigwell and Ilford, and in December last year, won a Ilford South Business Award.

Sam Tarry with Barney Bear's Nursery's Leah Clarke and Jade Steele.

Sam Tarry with Barney Bear's Nursery's Leah Clarke and Jade Steele. - Credit: Paul Fox Photography

“Sarah and I have never stopped to reflect back over the company’s journey,” Leah said. “We are from humble backgrounds and have worked so hard to be where we are now.”

“We have home-grown so many wonderful staff, from students to managers - all from Barking and Dagenham."

She told this newspaper that a current trainee at the facility was cared for in its baby room all the way back in 2004.

“Along our journey, we have welcomed so many wonderful staff, some that are still with us after 14 years.”

Barney Bear’s Nursery in Upney Lane

Barney Bear’s Nursery in Upney Lane - Credit: Leah Clarke

Faye Smith, manager of the Barking venue, has worked at Barney Bear’s Nursery for the last seven years: “We have a passion for working with children, watching them grow and develop.

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“That’s what brings us in to work, knowing that we’re making a contribution to their lives.”

The Barking nursery stayed open during the pandemic to support keyworker parents and took on students from the sister branches to offer wider support.

Faye said the nursery is getting back to normal now everything is opening up again

 “We are a family,” she said. “It is definitely the Barney Bear's family.”

Leah added: “The children who came to us as tiny babies will now be turning 18 this year.

"I would welcome the class of 2004 to contact Sarah and I. We couldn’t have done this without our staff teams, the children and parents, along with our families.

"We are truly blessed to be part of the borough of Barking and Dagenham.”