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20 July, 2022 - 11:07 By Tony Quested

Child’s play as yet another nursery is sold in a sector that’s buzzing

The children’s nursery sector in the East of England has witnessed the latest in a string of recent sales.

Grant Thornton’s Corporate Finance team has advised on the sale of Cambs-born nursery group Davidson-Roberts Ltd to the rapidly growing private equity-backed Family First Nursery Group, which is expanding its footprint across England. 

Family First has grown to more than 60 nurseries in Essex, London, the West Midlands and South East in little over three years, offering more than 5,500 places.

Established in 2006 near St Neots, Davidson-Roberts has gone on to acquire nine more nurseries across Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. 

A number of its facilities offer children Forest School sessions focused on encouraging a connection with the natural world. 

The acquisition of Davidson-Roberts will support Family First’s strategic plan to grow within commuter belts, metropolitan cities and areas of population growth – recognising that many parents are now working flexibly in the post-Covid era. 

Founded three years ago, Family First Nursery Group is backed by PE investor August Equity and aims to become one of the leading childcare providers in the UK. 

The latest acquisition follows a string of M & A activity, with the group completing six deals so far this year so far – part of a target of reaching 80 sites by the end of this year.

Jane Roberts, founder of Davidson-Roberts Ltd, said: “The successful growth journey of Davidson-Roberts over the last 15 years is down to the passion for the sector from the whole of the team. I have loved the experience, leading the businesses growth, and now look forward to this next, exciting chapter. 

“Family First Nursery Group is a company that shares our own values and is ready to take Davidson-Roberts, and the team, to the next level.”

Family First Nursery Group is led by chairman Andy Morris, who has a strong track record in growing children’s nursery groups, having taken Asquith Nurseries to 92 establishments before selling to Bright Horizons – the second largest chain in the UK. He subsequently helped grow the OAC Childcare Group in Australia from 24 nurseries to 79. 

Craig Grant, Family First’s Corporate Development & Strategy Officer, said: “We were incredibly impressed by the group of nurseries Jane has built and believe Family First provides a great platform to take these nurseries, their teams, children and parents onto the next phase of their journey.”

The sale of Davidson-Roberts marks the latest transaction in the nursery and wider education market by the Grant Thornton team, following those of The London Preschool Group to Three Little Birds Nurseries, Kew and St Margaret’s Montessori Nurseries to Dukes Education, refinancing and raising an acquisition facility for Storal, acting for Kids Planet on its acquisition of Kids Allowed and raising additional financing facilities for Kids Planet to support its continued growth. 

Alongside its M & A support, Grant Thornton’s Tax team provided advice on the complex demerger of the properties from the operating company as part of the transaction. 

Andrew Frame, Corporate Finance Director at Grant Thornton, said: “Over the last year we have seen a combination of a fragmented marketplace, increased regulations and a new normal in flexible working, all leading to record-levels of deal activity across the nursery sector. 

“There continues to be significant interest from PE-backed groups and international trade consolidators, as well as strong support from the debt market fuelling growth. 

“During the sale process we generated considerable interest in Davidson-Roberts from domestic and international buyers across private equity and trade, resulting in a great outcome for our client and a terrific home for the business in Family First.”

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