The woman behind Corby’s world-leading childcare centre has been made a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list.
The first head of the Pen Green Centre, Dr Margy Whalley is now a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to education.
She was made an MBE in 1999 for her services to young people.
Margy spoke to this newspaper earlier this year, ahead of her retirement, about the beginnings of the Pen Green Centre in the early 1980s.
In 1982, when she was interviewed for her job, there were protesters outside the derelict Samuel Lloyd school building who were concerned it would be a magnet for the town’s troubled families.
Opening in 1983, it has become a higher education facility offering local people the chance to take degrees in childcare studies, it was the country’s first SureStart centre, it has been chosen to lead several government nursery initiatives and is now the secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nursery Classes.
It has never had less than an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted report.
Margy said: “When I arrived for my interview in 1982 there were people standing outside and there was a local action group that didn’t want the centre there because they thought it would be a problem family centre.
“The interviews were held in a room above the pub that’s now The Raven.
“I had a suit and a case and I arrived a bit early and they thought I was on the interview panel so I had to explain I was a candidate.
“There were 11 people on the panel because it was such a controversial thing - some of them were also in the action group!
“And of course Jimmy Kane was on the panel too.”
After Margy was appointed, she and her staff realised that there probably wasn’t enough money to achieve everything they wanted, so they set about raising some.
Margy said: “We used to go around the pubs in Corby and I was dressed as a kangaroo.
“You could raise £500 in a night, which in 1983 was a huge amount of money.
“I don’t agree that services like this should have to be paid for by fundraising and 33 years on, we still don’t have a government that recognises that.”
Part of the centre’s success is that it prefers all workers to have a high level of education.
About 70 per cent of workers are graduates. There is a unique research and training base on site where parents and workers take higher level qualifications in childcare.
The centre has always applied a holistic approach to childcare – promoting the fact that children will learn best if their parents are also able to access education.
Margy added: “We provide graduate training on site.
“We have 340 families involved in the nursery side of Pen Green and 340 adults in training here.
“What we’ve managed to learn that other nurseries perhaps haven’t is that parents are their children’s first educators.”
The centre also applies a tracer project, which looks at outcomes for former nursery children who have now grown into adults.
Margy said: “We know from our years of experience that parents in Corby want more for their children than they had for themselves.”
She will be succeeded by the centre’s two deputies, Angela Prodger and Tracy Gallagher – both local women who have been involved in the centre for years.
She said: “They have many, many years of experience between them.
“Both Angela and Tracy started as young workers here and have risen through the ranks.
“We’re proud that 54 per cent of our staff have started as parents here and most of them are local people who understand Corby.
“This place would crash and burn if you didn’t have that.”