Rosemary Murphy OBE

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Rosemary Murphy OBE, owner of Portland Nurseries.

Rosemary was recognised as a visionary in the early year’s sector and founder of the charity National Day Nurseries Association.

Both qualified teachers, Rosemary and her husband Michael’s passion for education led them to open their own children’s nursery in Lindley, Portland House Nursery being the first in 1991. The nursery soon became a benchmark for quality and Rosemary’s vision and dedication saw the business grow acquiring Harlequin Nursery in 1996, Holly Bank Nursery in 2001 and the opening of Oakwood House Nursery & Forest School 2010, forming Portland Nurseries Limited.

For 27 years Rosemary’s nurseries have provided the highest standard of quality care and early year’s education for more than 7,000 children in the Huddersfield area.

A pioneer in her field, Portland Nurseries were the first to be awarded the Investors in People accreditation in 2000, recognising her dedication to her staff team and her focus on their professional training and development. Alongside Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ status, the nurseries were the first in the area to receive the Gold Healthy Eating award from Kirklees and then the Soil Association’s Food For Life Award. Her flagship Nursery Portland House received Huddersfield Examiner’s Nursery of the Year Award in 2016. Oakwood House Nursery was the first Forest School in the area, emphasising the importance of learning through play in the outdoor natural environment, an ethos which is engrained across all of our nurseries. In 2014 Rosemary was presented with the ‘Most Influential Person in Childcare’ in at the Nursery Management Today (NMT) awards.

Alongside running her own growing business and raising her 4 children, Rosemary, having been the national chair for 3 years, was appointed Chief Executive of the National Day Nursery Association (NDNA) in 1998. Rosemary fought hard for the early years sector to have a place in national debate and won charitable status for the NDNA to represent the sector providing support, advice, training and quality improvement schemes to centres across the country.

In 2001 Rosemary's incredible work was recognised in the Queen's honours and she received an OBE for her services to the early years. She was not content to rest on her laurels and set out to develop her biggest project yet, the NDNA Centres of Excellence based on her belief that the same level of care, wherever you were born, should be afforded to all children.

The scheme was backed with Government money to support the start up in areas of deprivation and in 2004, 8 regional centres opened around the UK, offering day care to support parents back to work, training to nursery staff and qualifications were developed such as the Early Years Professional Status, for those nursery workers who had undertaken degrees and wished to upgrade their qualification.

Friend and colleague, Mike Thompson, Chairman of Childbase Partnership commented:

“A lady with a vision. A lady who believed that the foundations for life are laid in the formative years. A lady who knew we, the providers, couldn’t make the difference to which we were all committed unless we spoke together and louder. A lady who’s own nurseries achieved standards to which others aspired. A remarkable lady, a friend to so many and a life of change. She made the difference.”

Friend and colleague Karen Walker, former nursery owner and NDNA Network Coordinator commented:

“The influence Rosemary had during a period of immense change in the early years cannot be overstated, without her drive and ambition for the sector, the wholesale improvement in quality within the early years would have stalled completely by 2008, when the recession started to bite. By then the inroads made by the NDNA were such that parents and people working in the sector were unwilling to allow standards to slip and although funding was dramatically cut and very big changes made, the striving for quality and the belief in the sector to provide the very best start in life for young children has been maintained to this day.”

Rosemary retired from the NDNA in 2005 to begin a period of upgrading and development of her own nurseries. In 2014, after being diagnosed with cancer, Rosemary handed over the running of the nurseries to her children Michael and Anastasia with the support of the nursery managers, some of whom have worked for the company for over 25 years.

Speaking about Rosemary, Senior Manager at Portland Nurseries, Samantha Richmond said “She was my boss, my friend and colleague and I have always had the upmost respect and admiration for her. Rosemary was truly inspirational and a wonderful role model with high standards and we all aspired to be just like her. Over the years we became very good friends and spent lots of time together especially in the early days of the nurseries and in the birth of the NDNA at events promoting the organisation. Rosemary never ceased to amaze me with her tireless work ethic and dogged determination in the pursuit of a quality early years sector. I was honoured when she invited me to join in the celebrations in London when she received her OBE and was extremely proud of all she has achieved. The great legacy that she has left behind in the nurseries, the NDNA and the memories we have of her are extremely special and I for one will miss her dearly."

Senior Manager at Portland Nurseries, Julie Lister also commented “Rosemary is known for always having the children and families at the very heart of everything she did and has been a tremendous role model and inspiration to us all, she has influenced the lives of so many staff and families. As a team we feel greatly privileged and proud to have worked for a truly remarkable lady with such great determination, passion, outstanding ideals, quality and standards that run through the very core of the nurseries and the people within them. She will be truly missed by us all.”

There will be hundreds of families across Huddersfield that will lovingly recall how their children blossomed under her care and went on to further education as confident individuals. The nurseries remain a family run business, who will continue to deliver the vision, passion and drive of Rosemary’s legacy. She will be fondly remembered as a wonderful role model who dedicated her life to achieving the best for all children. She was a visionary and an inspiration and will be greatly missed.

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