And then we were 10

All about people: Gemma Smith, right, with long-time Gem’s staff, Louise Allan, left, and Marianne Beer

People are at the heart of Gem’s Educational Childcare, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on Saturday.

‘‘There are many metrics you can use to analyse a business’s success,’’ Gem’s director Gemma Smith says.

‘‘When I was preparing a speech [for anniversary celebrations] the first thing that popped into my head was the success we’ve had with all of our people — how many people we’ve still got with us from those first years and how many people have returned to us.

‘‘That for me is one of the biggest rewards that you can get as a business owner …’’

Smith started the business with husband, Mike, in 2012 and estimates about 1500 children have come through Gem’s doors since the first centre opened in Lake Hayes Estate.

‘‘I was a town planner at the time, I had a consultancy in town and we had a team mainly of women in their 30s starting to have families and they just couldn’t find childcare,’’ she says.

Gemma and Mike, who was managing a deer stud at the time, saw an opportunity and started looking around for property — her background in town planning also came in handy.

‘‘It was perfect timing — we [had] started a family, so our heads were in it too.

‘‘We knew what we were looking for in terms of what we wanted our children to experience.’’

Gemma never expected to be running a childcare centre, and laughs as she recalls her time at Teacher’s College.

‘‘For someone who … got six weeks into [Teacher’s College] and said ‘not for me’, to find myself back here and to have enjoyed it so much, it’s quite ironic.’’

The couple built the centre on the educational theories of Pikler and Reggio, with a focus on nature, and have built up two more centres in Shotover Country and Kawarau Park in the last decade.

‘‘Our ethos has always been based on child-led education, where the environment’s the third teacher, so to speak.

‘‘Where a child displays interest, that’s where the learning will flow.’’

Looking ahead to the next 10 years, Gemma says while there are no immediate plans to expand, the couple have a site consented in Wanaka for another centre.

But for now, she wants to ‘‘consolidate’’ what she and Mike have built.

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