SO Resi Canning Town

Wapping: How Puddle Jumpers has opened a new site in east London

Nursery school expands its operation, bringing a former church school back into educational use

Puddle Jumpers new nursery is in a former church school

Subscribe to our free Wharf Whispers newsletter here

Puddle Jumpers isn’t just the name of a brand, it’s a statement of intent.

The company recently opened a second nursery in Wapping, expanding on the success of its first site in Limehouse.

The new facility brings a building that once housed a church school back into educational use and, while the walls might date to 1871, what’s inside is firmly rooted in the here and now.

With the refurbishment of its ground and first floors mostly complete, the nursery is now welcoming its first children and the place is starting to buzz with life.

It’s warm and welcoming with plenty of wood used to create furniture, flooring and a cosy reading area with London landmarks crafted from oak.

All in all, it’s a substantial setting for the Puddle Jumpers themselves as they explore and discover the world under the guidance of staff.

Senior nursery manager Lucy Prew-Ajayi has spent the last 27 years working with children and young people in a multitude of settings and leads the team at the new location. 

The building is undergoing a complete refurbishment and is now accepting children

“As a career, it was a no-brainer from me – I was one of those privileged people who knew what I wanted to do as I went through secondary school,” she said.

“My mother was a headteacher and a childminder when she was on maternity leave, so we were always surrounded by little people.”

Her professional life has seen her work at international schools in Berlin and study play therapy, working with young people who had suffered traumatic events before coming back to early years education at Sure Start centres before the Government closed them down.

She’s spent the last 12 years working for NGOs, family clubs and nursery schools as a manager and director and has now arrived in Wapping.

“I chose Puddle Jumpers because of the organisation’s vision,” she said. “That’s for children to think for themselves and teaching them to be brave.

“For me it’s as it was 27 years ago – we’re here for the children and they are here to thrive.

The nursery has a lending library, complete with London landmarks

“Life can be turbulent and children need to understand that crises can happen.

“Mental health issues are on the rise, so we believe in giving children the opportunity to be courageous and to develop resilience.”

Learning through play is very much at the core of Puddle Jumpers’ offering, with children encouraged to make, participate and create during their time at the nursery. 

“As an early years, foundation stage nursery, we follow best regulatory practice and the curriculum guidance, but we also take inspiration from the theories of Rudolf Steiner and Loris Malaguzzi, who developed the Reggio Emilia approach,” said Lucy.

“These approaches are all about creativity, the arts and the power of language expression. We interpret those through the facilities we have.

“For example, we have a living kitchen where children do botany and cookery classes and that includes a lovely little herb garden, which is magical and great for sensory education.

“Upstairs we have an art atelier where imagination is brought to life – it’s about children putting what they see in their minds down on paper.

The nursery’s living kitchen is designed for kids to get involved

“Later this year, we’ll be opening a sensory room where children will be supported in self-regulation.

“This will also be a place to introduce them to technology without it being a screen, so that from a young age they learn how to cope with it.”

The main play spaces, a lending library – where parents or staff can read with children – and an area for music, complete the picture inside.

“We also have our fabulous garden, which is truly beautiful and has been designed to be very inspiring,” said Lucy. 

“We are puddle-jumpers, so we believe in going outdoors in all weathers, which is also really calming for the children. 

“It allows them to be free, to be themselves and then experiment.

“Outside, we have a big sensory area, a magnificent water station – where children can experience different types of movement and positioning, with lever pulling.

The nursery has plentiful outdoor space with a climbing frame in the pipeline

“There’s a big pirate ship – which is a sandpit – and we have mud kitchens that are great physical play areas.

“Later in 2024, we’ve commissioned a Tower Bridge climbing frame for the children to enjoy.

“Throughout their time here, we believe in a challenging curriculum for all ages and this includes our Ambitions programme, which is designed to keep children stimulated and to help them identify what they might like to try on the extra-curricular list, when they get to primary school. It really helps with that transition.

“We are here for every single child – to challenge them, celebrate them and to meet their needs.”

Lucy was also keen to stress that Puddle Jumpers’ approach was very much about working with parents.

She said: “After registration, we get in touch and invite them to come and look round.

“At the moment we have two open days a week, and it’s nicer if you’re in a group together, because it can be a bit overwhelming if you’re alone.

Find out more about Puddle Jumpers here

Puddle Jumpers’ senior nursery manager Lucy Prew-Ajayi

Read more: How Canary Wharf Group has launched Wharf Connect, a network for early career professionals

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to our free Wharf Whispers newsletter here

- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via

“A nursery school must work for the family first – adults also need to feel safe and secure. We’re very open-door.”

She said the nursery worked to help build networks among parents and to help equip them with skills to help their child learn, develop and grow. 

“Over the course of the year we have a number of events for parents and families, so they can come and socialise together,” said Lucy.

“We do have a couple of evenings just for our parents to let their hair down and talk about things they have in common.

“Some parents want to talk about their children – others about what’s going on in the world. We’re giving them that link, which is very important in a part of London with an international community, where people may not have immediate family nearby. 

“We also run a free programme called Parents As First Educators, helping them understand behaviour and how to manage it.”

Puddle Jumpers is open for registration of children.

A minimum of two full days per week applies.

The nursery is also currently recruiting staff for its new location.

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Canary Wharf: How Wood Wharf Kindergarten offers tailored childcare

Recently opened nursery provides a haven for kids aged 0-4 on edge of Harbour Quay Gardens

Everything at Wood Wharf Kindergarten is play-based

Subscribe to our Wharf Whispers newsletter here

Humans change physically, mentally and emotionally at a faster rate in their first few years than at any other point in their lives.

The experience and stimulation they encounter during this formative time plays a crucial role in their development, laying the foundations for the people they will later become and the individuality they will express.

These are facts that are uppermost in the minds of staff at Wood Wharf Kindergarten, which recently opened its doors in Canary Wharf. 

Arranged in generously proportioned surroundings over the two lower floors of 10 Park Drive, it offers childcare to babies and young children aged 0-4, 51 weeks of the year.

The children are taken out twice a day in all weathers

‘Tailored’ is the word that best sums up its approach.

“Getting to know the family and understanding what their needs and their child’s needs are is the most important part,” said Heleanna Phair, nursery manager at Wood Wharf Kindergarten. 

“The first thing we do is to invite parents in for the settling-in sessions, which we do together.

“A lot of nurseries will ask parents to bring their children in for an hour and then leave them at the door. 

“We believe the parents should be in the room with the children to help them to become familiar with the environment and with the staff – especially the key person who will be looking after them.

The nursery works with the interests of each child

“Then, slowly, the parent moves away and stays downstairs so they’re on call if needed.

“We don’t allow any child to start unless they’ve gone through that settling-in process and we feel the child is emotionally ready. Of course, that looks different for each child and family.

“Once we’ve been through that process, parents have a key person who acts as the main point of contact and will send them daily information about what their child has been doing.

“We’ll let them know if the children are sleeping, if they’ve had a bottle or gone out for a trip – those notifications and photos go out throughout the day, which is a real comfort for people.

“Every six weeks we’ll write a long learning story, so parents get an update on their child’s developmental milestones, and then we’ll invite them in every three months for a bit of a parents’ evening for a catch up on how things are going.

“We  have very strong parent partnerships here, and parents are always invited in at the beginning and end of every day for a verbal handover.

“It’s so important we work with them, that they know what their child has been doing and how they are developing.”

Nursery manager Heleanna Phair

With a track record of achieving assessments of “outstanding” from Ofsted in previous roles, you don’t have to sit with Heleanna long to feel her obvious passion for the job she does.

“I’ve lost count of the number of years I’ve been in nursery management,” she said.

“Of course there’s a lot of legislation to take into account, but I think that if you’re genuinely passionate about what you do and that you really think about the children and parents you have in your nursery then that’s what helps you gain this level of recognition. 

“No nursery is the same as another – they all have challenges.

“My first management role was for a charity and, because many of the children were disadvantaged, what they really needed was feeding, love and attention. 

“Here we have some children who have nannies, language classes and swimming lessons and have had the opportunity to travel a lot.

“So, for us, the challenge is to provide a curriculum that is exciting and engaging, because they have so many experiences in the bag already.

“To do that we make sure everything we do is fresh, current and child-led. There’s no top-down approach to our teaching at all.

“We see the children each day – discover what their interests are – and then plan learning opportunities for the next day.

The nursery caters for children aged 0-4

“I always mention to parents when they come in at first that we may not move a child up from the babies room at 18 months because they might not be ready.

“Equally, we have a boy at the moment who is only 14 months, but is ready for the toddler room because he just wants more stimulation. 

“Knowing the children and parents and reviewing the service as you go is really important.

“I once worked at a nursery that operated 12 rooms and the children were moved every six months.

“That was really bad for them emotionally because they were not forming attachments with the staff.

“Here we make sure that three moves is the maximum and we only make them when the children are ready, which means the age range in each room is quite broad but also that each child is in the right place.

“We have a qualified early years teacher in our pre-school room, which is a real benefit. They are responsible for our school readiness programme.

“This, like all of our teaching, is play-based, but prepares the children for formal education with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy.”

While staff at Wood Wharf Kindergarten preside over a curriculum that includes Spanish, Mandarin and even Yoga, the overwhelming atmosphere is one of fun.

Softly furnished rooms are filled with wooden toys, books and activities intended to sneak a little knowledge in while the kids are simply having a good time.

But the nursery is about more than just the building itself. 

“We’re an outdoor learning nursery and we go outside in all weathers,” said Heleanna.

“We don’t keep them in if it’s a bit cold outside and we are in the process of securing a permanent outdoor space next to the nursery with a temporary one set up at Union Square in the meantime.

Wood Wharf Kindergarten is located on the edge of Harbour Quay Gardens

“I’m always very clear with parents about this because I really believe in it. It’s the same with messy play.

“We always ask that the children should be dressed in old clothes – nothing precious.

“It’s so important not to have barriers to learning so if the children don’t want to wear aprons, then we won’t make them.

“Having a close relationship with the parents is really important so they understand our approach and its benefits.

“It’s the same across the curriculum. If any of the children don’t want to take part, then they don’t have to. 

“That’s why we only have full-time staff because its so important for our key people to observe the children every day so they really know how they are doing.

“Nothing is structured, but there are always goals behind the activities – to me ‘outstanding’ looks like giving children the best possible experiences and we are so lucky to be here in Canary Wharf to do that, with Crossrail Place Roof Garden and all the parks to explore.

“The staff take the children out twice a day – often on quite long trips, including places such as Mudchute Park And Farm on the Isle Of Dogs – a favourite with everyone.”

Located on the edge of Harbour Quay Gardens overlooking West India South Dock, Wood Wharf Kindergarten sits on the quieter half of the estate. 

Packed with toys and equipment, it also offers food to meet any dietary requirement from head chef Mitchell Wilkinson – a cook with decades of experience working for the likes of Wimbledon and The Hurlingham Club before moving into educational settings.

“We do have some spaces at the moment and I’d urge parents to get in touch,” said Heleanna.

“We can host them for stay and play sessions if they like because we know it’s important to be sure.”

Wood Wharf Kindergarten fees – which include all meals, snacks, formula, nappies and trips – are £120 per standard day for under-3s and £110 for 3+.

Those interested in securing a place can get in touch with the nursery here.

The nursery is based on Park Drive in Canary Wharf’s Wood Wharf district

Read more: How Padium is set to bring padel tennis to Canary Wharf’s Bank Street

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to our Wharf Whispers newsletter here

- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via
Subscribe To Wharf Life