Five years ago, we created a model to capture the social impact that we aim to achieve at Acorn. When we became a charitable social enterprise, it enabled us to focus on children rather than on profit, and although financial sustainability is still critically important, especially in the current economic climate, we are able to keep children at the heart of our purpose, our policies, and our practice. We focus on social impact as much as on financial performance, through our cross-subsidy model, which enables nurseries to survive that would otherwise not be viable. The social impact model helps us to identify the activities that have positive outcomes for children, who are at the heart of our vision for a more caring and connected society.

Our original social impact model consisted of four segments, starting with children, then families, the community and the natural world, underpinned by our model of excellence. These elements are still key aspects of our newly revised model, which we are delighted to share with everyone, but we have a fifth segment, and a redesign, which emphasises even more the place of children at the centre of all our work. We realised that a key element was missing, and that we needed to include our staff teams in order to make the model complete. The professional development of the early years workforce has always been part of our charitable objectives, and we have now included this in our social impact model too.

The new model then, starts with happy, confident children at the heart. We chose those words to reflect the emphasis we place on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Children learn most effectively when they are nurtured in caring environments with opportunities to explore a range of activities and experiences. We then place our values around the children, emphasising the importance to us of nurturing, through our ethic of care, of a personal, individualised approach, professional development, ethical policies and practices, and of valuing the outdoor environment.

The four outer segments then set out the areas in which we hope to create positive outcomes for our children. Firstly, the crucial importance of partnerships with families, which we aim to achieve through our personalised approach, ideally beginning with a home visit, and building trusting relationships. Secondly, the new segment of a professionalised workforce. UK society currently undervalues the role of early years practitioners, despite a well-qualified and dedicated staff team being the single most important ingredient of a high-quality nursery that supports the development of each child. We aim to ensure that our practitioners feel valued in the highly responsible work that they do, and are supported, celebrated and encouraged in their developing careers. We are very proud of our role as thought leaders in the sector, and of our action research group which focuses on developing best practice and our social impact. The third outer segment is community embeddedness, which is important for our wider impact, but also provides children with an understanding of what goes on outside the nursery premises. We have intergenerational links with elder care organisations, and make good use of local facilities and the local environment. This links to our final segment of engagement with nature. This is far more than just our very popular forest school provision, but similarly ensures that children have regular access to natural environments, both within and beyond nursery gardens. Our eco-committees work hard to ensure that environmental sustainability is increasingly being embedded within everyday practice. Children are the generation that will most be affected by the climate crisis, so we aim to have a positive environmental impact as well as social impact. Natural environments are critical to wellbeing too, and our Acorn logo was chosen because of the symbolism of great oaks growing from little acorns, and in the context of a wider eco-system.

You can take a closer look at each of our social impact areas here.

Our model of excellence, which underpins our social impact is about being ethical, particularly in embracing an ethic of care, being innovative and sustainable, and our thought leadership builds on our relational pedagogy and our ongoing action research. Our overall vision, of a more caring and connected society, may seem ambitious for a group of nurseries and other early years services, but we can all help to contribute to the nurturing of the next generation, and we believe that the early years is a crucial period of every child’s development, and that everything we can do to support that will be of benefit to society in the future.  

Zoe Raven