After working as a pastoral officer in a high school for 20 years, Jackie Kelly changed gears after the pandemic, going from working in an organisation to becoming a self-motivated entrepreneur.
Whilst having her nails done before a holiday, she overheard some ladies in the shop chatting about nothing to do for the kids in town. She immediately knew what she would do -- set up a children’s role-play centre in Heywood, Rochdale, where children learn through play. At the same time their parents sit back, relax and have a coffee.
Combined with her education experience and her strong determination to push forward her project, Little Play Town Heywood became a place full of joy and laughter in October 2022.
We chatted with Jackie about her story of becoming a self-employed entrepreneur and how Start Up Vision supported her along the way.
Can you share your background and what motivated you to have your own business?
Before the pandemic, I worked as a pastoral officer in a high school for 20 years and was a Level 3 safeguarding officer. My parents were successful business owners, and I have done the bookkeeping for my husband’s business for several years. I had often thought to myself, if I can do it for others, why not do it for myself? Additionally, after the pandemic and schools re-opened, my working environment changed quite a lot. I began to give serious thought that I might be at the end of the road for my career in a school environment. However, I didn’t know what that business looked like at that moment. I just knew that I wanted my own business and to work for myself.
What inspired you to set up a children’s role-play centre?
As I have always wanted to have my own business, I have been quite alert to various business opportunities in my area. Several times, when I spotted an option, I even considered starting a few new businesses. Stillthey never felt quite right and didn’t fit entirely with my skill set.
On one holiday, when I was relaxing and having my nails done in a shop on the high street of Heywood, Rochdale, I overheard some ladies chatting about what there is not to do for the kids here. The idea struck me that setting up a children’s role-playing centre here on the high street might have a market.
Once I had thought of the idea of a role-play centre, I began to do some investigations. I thought I had a brand-new idea that no one had thought of, but this wasn’t the case. I was conscious that I didn’t want to be too like the most local one currently and tried to think of ideas, layouts and designs that were different while still being engaging to children.
With that idea in mind, I started looking for a suitable location for my new business. When I found a venue where I could visualise what the children’s role-playing centre would look like there, I signed the lease a month later and handed in my notice to the school. I used all local tradespeople and artists, who were fantastic.
Why a role-play centre instead of another childcare business?
I want to do something other than an indoor soft playground as there is a very successful one locally, I don’t want to be a nursery because that’s a whole different ball game of legislation and things like that. I am not a teacher, so I don’t want to educate children directly. That said, at the very core of everything, children learn through play, and when they are playing, that is their very first learning experience. They learn by watching adults.
Our role-playing centre has multiple different setups, such as a supermarket, construction area, theatre and little road etc., allowing the kids to interact with one another and learn crucial social skills here. Every child plays so differently and learns differently here.
What hurdles did you have to overcome when you started your own business?
What I have done here is not as difficult as you would think because it is a relatively new concept. There is a small amount of legislation around it, and no need to apply for a ton of licenses. Everything fell into place smoothly in the process. Still, the one thing that made me nervous was waiting for my Lawful Development Certificate (LDC). Although it is not compulsory to have an LDC, there may be times when you need one to confirm that the use, operation, or activity named in it is lawful for planning control purposes. As time went on, I won’t lie; I was a bit worried as I had already handed in my notice and signed the lease and thought I might need to do something differently. Luckily, the certificate finally came through, and Little Play Town Heywood opened on the 8th of October 2022.
When did you learn about the Start Up Vision programme?
When I had the idea to set up a Café in the centre, I rang the council and asked about the related requirement. I was looking for someone to help me with these questions, and eventually, I hooked up with the Start Up Vision programme.
I am happy to know there were people out there to help, and they have offered massive help. The experts on the programme are so knowledgeable about a vast number of topics. They advised me to develop my website and social media marketing, which I did not know much about before. Meeting other people on the courses and sharing ideas was also excellent.
What is next on your learning journey with GC Business Growth Hub?
Another area I would like to improve further is staff management. As you know, I come from an educational background with limited experience in staff management. After I started my own business, I suddenly had a team to manage and people looking to me for all the answers. I am looking forward to more advice from the experts in this area.
“It is an excellent program for people starting their business. I recommend it to anybody considering starting their business but unsure how to go forward to join the programme. It will provide the necessary guidance, and their advice can be useful. It is also nice to meet other people in the same boat and to encourage and help each other.”Jackie Kelly
You can find out more about Little Play Town Heywood here:
We provide fully funded support to self-employed and gig economy workers across Greater Manchester. Contact us now if you want to learn more about Start Up vision.
More information about the Start Up Vision programme can be found here.