Create Your Future: Barking & Dagenham College alumni helping others into childcare

Nursery owners Leah Clarke (back left) and Sarah Hawkins (back right) celebrate 10 years of Barney B

Nursery owners Leah Clarke (back left) and Sarah Hawkins (back right) celebrate 10 years of Barney Bears - Credit: Archant

A pair of Barking & Dagenham College graduates who launched their own nursery are helping the next generation of childcarers into work.

College alumni Sarah, left, and Leah

College alumni Sarah, left, and Leah - Credit: Archant

Sarah Hawkins, 34, of Clare Gardens, Barking, and Leah Clarke, 33, of Chafford Hundred, became close friends while studying at the college, before going on to launch Barney Bears together in 2004.

Starting out as a single nursery in Upney Lane, Barking, the duo added three more sites over the decade with nurseries in Dagenham, Chigwell and West Ham.

The business currently employs 42 members of staff across the four locations, with former Barking and Dagenham College students making up almost three -quarters of those – something Leah is especially proud of.

“It’s great that we’re in a position to offer young people a job in childcare,” she said.

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“We really enjoyed our time there and know how good the teaching is, which inspired us to go back.

“Without Barking & Dagenham College, we certainly wouldn’t be where we are today.”

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Barney Bears recently celebrated its 10th birthday and Leah admits she is still amazed at the success of their nurseries.

“I still can’t believe how far we’ve come, and we’re still very much on the up,” she added.

“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster of a decade in some respects, but we love it as much as we did when we started. We still live and breath it.”

Ann McDaniel, childcare curriculum manager at the college is delighted to see her former students doing so well.

“It’s great to see but also so nice that they’ve come back and we’ve been able to forge a strong link with Barney Bears.

“I’m very proud of them for what they’ve achieved and proud of the college equipping them for their success.”

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