Case Study

Oak Tree Nurseries doing it right

Nestled in the countryside outside of Crumlin, Co. Antrim is Oak Tree Nurseries, an exemplar of early year care & education.

It was refreshing to see a facility that thinks outside the box with children clearly at the centre of its operations” – local inspection authority

Owners Shane and Catherine Murphy who do not think conventionally about anything they do, have conducted years of research to grow the childcare facility over the last 25 years to the award winning, eco friendly establishment it is today.

Whilst Catherine started the business in 1999, initially within the home shared with the family, Shane due to suffering bad bouts of Crohn’s, soon gave up his career within the electrical industry to join her. With his own condition and their daughter suffering from allergies, it is no wonder that there is a strong emphasis of research into ways that will transform the lives of children especially those with Autism, Anxiety and Allergies.

“Our main concerns focus around the three ‘A’s, Autism, Anxiety and Allergies, we look back at the early years of Oaktree we had one child on the Autistic spectrum, our own daughter was the only child with allergies and there were no children with anxiety problems. Now we see a totally different picture, in every room we would have a child impacted by one of the three ‘A’s”

Starting from scratch and rebuilding the nursery; they worked on the model, not how many children you fit into a room, but if the room was bigger, how many more activities could you offer in the space.

Joint winners in 2017 of the Green Apple Eco Award, the facilities are testament to the research they have undertaken to ensure that not only are they environmentally considerate employer & business, but the children of the future, are being educated in how to protect their environment. Among the innovations are triple glazing, concrete floors, ceilings & recycled brick walls to absorb the heat, grass roofs, heat recovery system, PV panels, indoor ponds to regulate heat with outdoor pond linked to their aquaponics system, wildflower areas, water harvesting systems, smart meters and smart circuits.

Standing out from the competition Oaktree understands every child is different and as such every child’s learning process is different. At the heart of everything is ensuring that their children are having fun. They are all about promoting Learning through Play.

Offering 4 baby rooms, which the child moves through depending on their stage of development; a preschool unit and Oaktree Kids which focusses on learning through play and includes dance studio, active & adventure, construction zone and lounge and finally outdoor areas for various play activities. Even parents are not forgotten about with the Parent Lounge offering complimentary tea/coffee allowing them to check in on their child. Oaktree is one of the first nurseries in N. Ireland to work in conjunction with the Children’s Food Trust to create a menu around the children.

The key to their success is simple and a lesson for any individual thinking of becoming an entrepreneur. Do not think insular. Take time out of the business to look at the forest. Look at others in your industry and businesses in general as to what and how they are doing it well.”

Strong research is the basis of Shane’s modelling of the nursery over the years including a best practice visit to Reggio Emilia Italy in 2018. He was even invited to present his own research on Autism, Anxiety & Allergies to the World Forum on Early Care & Education in Macao in 2019. He is also keen to find out as much as possible about the links between maternal iodine deficiency which can lead to hypothyroxinemia and autism.

Shane is ardent about male role models in early care & education, citing media diverting men away from the industry. If someone wants to make a difference this is the best job in the world. He is determined to find different ways of inviting men into the sector to see how good it is and for Oaktree Nurseries to become a global location of best practice for early education and childcare. Personally, we think he is already a model of excellence.

The network he has built up across the world is testament to his passion for his sector. And it is this networking that he strongly advocates for any entrepreneur. “Networking is so important. I have spent the last 25 years meeting and connecting with people in the same industry. I am friendly with other nurseries in Northern Ireland as well a further afield. We bounce ideas of each other – it’s a two-way benefit.

Anyone starting a business regardless of their industry should network, network, network.

Shane went on to emphasise that networking and learning go hand in hand on the entrepreneurial journey.

Even today, 25years on from starting, he still attends business related workshops through Antrim Enterprise and Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council, not just to learn but to be inspired by speakers and attendees alike. Everyone has their own fascinating story to tell and he believes there is much to benefit from listening.

Living and breathing the business literally, Shane can not remember the last holiday the family have had, but he has no regrets. De-stressing is stepping out of the office into one of the nursery rooms, just hearing the laughter or the inquisitive minds is the perfect antidote; there is no better sound.

With his final words of encouragement to those looking to become self-employed Shane says:

“Most people didn’t do well in school, if you are passionate about an idea, you are going to be good about it. The mechanics of the business will come. That is where you look at the enterprise centre, they can provide the skills. Passion is more important than anything else. People will pay for that expertise.”

Oak Tree Nurseries

Some of the support Oaktree Nurseries utilised during their entrepreneurial journey via Antrim Enterprise

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Start Me Up Show

Some of the support Oaktree Nurseries utilised during their entrepreneurial journey via Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council


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