Acorn’s 2023 annual conference was a brilliant success, with over 270 staff members attending, it was a wonderful way to celebrate some fantastic achievements, develop new skills and hear from sector renowned trainers and speakers.

This year, we welcomed Ben Kingston-Hughes as our keynote speaker! Ben has over 30 years of experience working with children in a variety of settings, he was the winner of the 2019 National Playwork Awards and was a finalist for the Nursery World Trainer of the Year in 2020. Ben delivered a fantastic keynote speech titled ‘Early Years Heroes’, a session focussed on discussing why and how positive early years practitioners can be life-changing for children.

It is no secret that the early years sector is underfunded and undervalued, so it is important to us that our practitioners are reminded just how wonderful they are and how the care that they provide, really does make a difference every day. Ben gave us the opportunity to learn more about why the knowledge and care early years practitioners provide is so fundamental to children’s lives and it was wonderful to see the Acorn teams all together and enjoying such a thought-provoking discussion.

“Ben was an excellent asset to the conference and I had the pleasure of being with him for the duration of the day. His workshop was interactive and informative and where appropriate, he effectively used humour to keep us all engaged”

“I found the key speaker to be very knowledgeable and engaging. He had a real passion for what he does and this came across in his presentation. He kept the course interesting throughout his time in the session.”

“Ben was engaging and kept people’s interest. His real-life examples were great to hear and demonstrate the impact of his knowledge particularly towards the vulnerable groups he works with.”

Ben discussed how important outdoor access is for young children and shared with us that in the UK, free-range chickens are entitled to more outdoor space than children, which was a shocking revelation for everyone. It is a requirement that free-range chickens have at least 4m2 of outdoor space, whereas there are currently no legal requirements for children to have access to outdoor space. At Acorn, the outdoor environment is a key part our pedagogy and ensuring that this is available for all children is one of the four areas of our social impact model. The work that our practitioners do in developing their outdoor areas and enhancing their knowledge of the natural environment, continuously enhances children’s engagement with nature and its benefits.  



Quite often in our society, the important work of early years practitioners goes unnoticed and is undervalued in comparison to later years in education. Contrary to popular belief,  nursery practitioners do not ‘just play with children’ and the care that they provide is crucial when looking at providing children with the best start in life. So, it was important that we got together as an organisation and discussed just how important the work that they do is. Something that Ben really highlighted, was that our practitioners are not just ‘nursery practitioners’. At Acorn, our practitioners understand how to support child development and how to tailor the care and education to each individual child, they are knowledgeable, they are skilled, they are emotional supports to children and families, they are the smile in the morning and the wave goodbye at the end of the day. Our practitioners know and understand the children they care for like the back of their hand and place the child’s interests at the heart of everything they do. They are not only a support for our children, but for our families too, building those important relationships from the beginning, giving advice and words of encouragement when times are tough.



Our practitioners truly make a difference to the children and families in their care. At Acorn, we could not be prouder of the work that they do and the care they provide. There is no doubt in our mind that they truly are, early years heroes!

Neave Taylor