Alchemy boosts Just Learning

Alchemy Partners has acquired a majority interest in the UK independent nursery group, Just Learning. The firm is providing an initial £7.5m for new nurseries. This is the first deal of its kind in the nursery sector to give senior managers a stake in the business. Managers will share five per cent of the company and stand to gain as the company expands.

The UK childcare industry is underdeveloped with around 285,000 private day-care places currently available to service a potential market of at least 1.5m. The fragmented market is growing at around 12 per cent per annum and the government has forecast a requirement to achieve at least 350,000 new nursery places within the next five years.

Just Learning has seven new nurseries planned to open in the first nine months of 2002 and intends to raise its total portfolio to about 35 within the next two years. The firm was founded in 1995 by Duncan Bannatyne and Michael Fallon and currently operates 21 nurseries providing places for 1,800 children cared for by some 500 nursery staff.

The nurseries were originally located in the North East of England at Darlington and Stockton and now comprise purpose-built sites on new business parks as well as hospital nurseries in Ilford, Leytonstone and Basingstoke.

Duncan Bannatyne, co-founder and principal vendor, who is now concentrating on his leisure business interests, said: “Just Learning is a marvellous success story and needed an investor that will take it further. It has grown and become profitable by delivering high quality nursery services to children across the country and I am confident that Alchemy has the energy, talent and resources to lead the business forward.”

Co-founder Michael Fallon, said: “It’s a great deal. We are now free to expand after Duncan’s exit and we plan to be one of the top three operators in four or five years’ time.”