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Meet the Co Down mother who gave up a high-flying career to start a nursery school

Adele Moore, who with husband Johnny has two daughters, was commuting from Holywood to Dublin every day for her marketing job. Linda Stewart finds out exactly what happened next

Roaring success: Adele Moore with daughters Freya and Robyn
Roaring success: Adele Moore with daughters Freya and Robyn

By Linda Stewart

Is there anywhere you can escape the talk of Brexit? You'd think a daycare nursery might be a Brexit-free zone - but the children will come out with something surprising pretty much every day, according to Adele Moore.

The former marketing high-flier spent two years commuting to Dublin with her infant daughter in her previous role, but then took the momentous decision to set up a daycare facility in the Co Down village of Holywood.

Now the nursery has scooped the Best Outdoor Learning Award and Best Inclusive Practice Award at the Families First NI Awards.

Adele (40) says no two days are the same at a daycare nursery - and it's amazing the things that the children come out with.

"Children are very funny in the things they say - there's always something," she says.

"I overheard one of the after-school children saying to my daughter, 'So what do you think about all this Brexit stuff?'

"My daughter was a bit confused - 'Is that something in school?' she replied."

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Dublin-born Adele commuted from Holywood to her marketing job at Samsung Telecommunications in Dublin every day after marrying Johnny Moore (43), director of the Belfast sports shop SS Moore, and even kept up the commute when her daughter Freya (now eight) came along.

But when she became pregnant with her second daughter Robyn (now four) she knew something had to give and so the idea of Tiger Tots daycare facility was born.

The award-winning business is now going from strength to strength three years after it was launched in what had been a derelict building with no roof.

The couple at home with daughters Freya and Robyn
The couple at home with daughters Freya and Robyn

Adele says she identified a gap in the market after struggling to find nursery care upon her return to work after maternity leave.

"It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to work with children, but I saw a gap in the market when I was pregnant with Freya," she says.

Adele put Freya's name on a waiting list for a nursery in Co Down when she was only five months pregnant, but by the time she was ready to return to work, 11-month-old Freya was still on the waiting list - at number two.

At that stage Adele was faced with the decision of whether to leave her job or commute to Dublin. She decided to commute and bring Freya to a Dublin nursery.

"Commuting was fine - it was just the lifestyle that I was leading at that time," she says.

"But when I decided to go back to work when I had Freya, it got a bit more difficult, I suppose. I had Freya to myself all week and Johnny missed her.

Close-knit: Adele with husband Johnny
Close-knit: Adele with husband Johnny

"One child can be very portable, but when I became pregnant with Robyn, Freya was starting school."

Adele says she had always loved working with children and her business idea provided the chance of a flexible career that would allow her to see her children as often as she could.

"There was a clear gap in the market for a local daycare centre with outdoor space within the catchment area of Holywood, Cultra, Seahill, Crawfordsburn and beyond," she says.

"We saw the site of an old scout hall which had become derelict. Some research found that the hall had always served the local North Down community and had in fact been a nursery school at one time.

"It turns out that my husband, Johnny, had actually attended the nursery school there. It all felt very serendipitous."

The couple had been searching for a suitable building for a nursery - and, in a way, the derelict hall was exactly what they had been looking for.

"I was looking for something that could be renovated - I didn't really want a house," Adele says.

"We wanted something that could be purpose-built all on the one level, to create a really warm, airy, spacious facility. It was actually my mother-in-law that found this one. We were looking at this building that was in a bad state of repair, but it was perfect - you could see past it."

The building has a rich history - it was once a milk co-op before it became a community hall.

Child’s play: Adele Moore at Tiger Tots
Child’s play: Adele Moore at Tiger Tots

"Johnny used to go to a playgroup that operated from the same hall when he was a boy - it was run by a lady called Mrs Daniels and he remembers it well," Adele says.

"When we first saw it, it was really bad - you couldn't even really see it from the road. It was overgrown, the ceiling had fallen in and it was a big cold hall. There was a lot of work to bring it back. The only thing that is the same is the outside - everything has changed inside.

"The work involved completely gutting the place. We had to put on a new roof and divide it into different rooms for different age groups. Everything had to be done.

"We knew there was going to be a large outside area which is really important to me. There were bushes and brambles and you couldn't see further than a couple of metres, but now we have a big expanse of nice green grass, which is really important for the children."

Robyn was just three days old when work started on the renovation.

"In a sense, she was my first customer," Adele recalls.

Freya is now at school but attends the after-school facility, while Robyn is preparing to start at school later this year.

"Freya remembers it from what it was like when we first found the building to what it looks like today. She's very proud," Adele says.

"Three years on and the nursery has gone from strength to strength and we have plans to extend our after-school room to accommodate more children who come from the local primary school - Glencraig Integrated Primary School."

The centre offers indoors and outdoor facilities and caters for children aged from three months to primary school age.

Children at Tiger Tots are learning and developing without even knowing it. They get to have treasure hunts, to draw in chalk on the fences, make and decorate their own play dough, sing songs and play in the various zones around the centre, such as the construction area or the home corner. Recently the Ark Farm brought in baby lambs and chicks and they have outings to Belfast Zoo, W5 and the Ulster Museum - even train journeys to Bangor.

"Our ethos is that the first formative years of a child's life are foundational for future growth and success. So, at Tiger Tots, we provide a holistic and caring experience to support children's development, so they can fulfil their lifelong potential," Adele says.

"From diet to exercise and mental stimulation, all our activities help with improving memory, strength, co-ordination, boosting confidence, promoting learning skills and even improving sleep patterns.

"We have our own on-site kitchen, where meals are made fresh, and we are passionate about introducing a wide range of flavours from a young age, from a variety of delicious soft baby foods to tasty curries and homely dishes for our older children."

Adele allocates a key worker to every child so that staff will get to know families well and form strong and lasting partnerships.

"We develop strong channels of communication, so we can work with parents as part of a co-ordinated team focused on supporting each child's individual needs," she adds.

Adele says she remembers going to a play school when she was growing up as a child in Dublin - one of four children - and that has helped to shape her vision of Tiger Tots.

"Mum had quite a few of us, so she probably needed a few hours to herself! I remember it was fun - it was learning but in another way," she says.

"I think it's really important for children to have time for free play.

"I went to a play school that had a very large outdoor area and I think in a way that was of key importance when I was looking for a site - that there was a large outdoor area.

"I grew up beside Phoenix Park and I was so lucky to have it on my doorstep, We spent a lot of time in the park and there were so many animals to see, such as the deer and the ducks to feed. I take my children there every time we go home - it's a fantastic park.

"Playing outdoors has so many benefits for children - ours are out every day, even a couple of times a day.

"It helps the children sleep better at night and it's also a good way to play and develop all those motor skills. It's a brilliant way of getting them out into nature and becoming aware of the environment."

Originally from Castleknock in Dublin, Adele studied business and marketing in university, before working in marketing for the next 13 years.

"I was always interested in working with children, but life took a different direction," she says.

It was at Dublin Business School that she met Johnny.

"I was the first person he met in Dublin and it turned out we were starting at the same college and the same course on that Monday. We sat together from the first day," she says.

"We were casually seeing each other when we were at college, but when we left we went off on to our own different paths. I wanted to see the world - I became a cabin crew member on Japan airlines. It was a great way to travel and see a bit of the world and make a bit of money at the same time."

After leaving college, Adele and Johnny lost touch for the next 10 years, but reconnected due to a chance encounter. "Friends of mine bumped into him in Belfast. Obviously, he brought up my name so he asked them to give me his number. So I called him and we arranged to meet - and the rest is history!"

The couple married in 2010 and held their reception in Carlton House in Dublin.

Years later, life is very different. Adele says her role ranges from day-to-day running of the nursery to managing staff and answering calls.

"I could be the cook, the accountant - I can even be the IT manager at times. I have a lot of different hats and no two days are the same," she says.

"I have the best of both worlds. I can continue working, but I also see my children every day."

It's really rewarding to see how children can completely transform after starting nursery, Adele admits.

"It's a privilege to be such a big part of their lives and their development. In some ways we are second parents at times and you feel very proud of them when they are graduating from here and moving into school," she says.

"This career couldn't be more different than my job in marketing - I feel like I have found my true calling. I love it so much. I love to see the children grow and develop and to form bonds with each other.

"The level of learning they gain at this age is exceptional and we are doing activities every hour to help stimulate and develop them. Their little personalities are wonderful. The fact that my own girls are here each day is just the icing on the cake. I wouldn't change my new path for the world," Adele concludes.

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