Alliance celebrates Outstanding Member Awards winners

The hard work, dedication and commitment of Pre-school Learning Alliance members was celebrated at the organisation’s first ever Outstanding Member Awards on Friday 1 June.

Broadcaster and social commentator Jenni Trent-Hughes announced the winners in front of an audience of around 600 delegates from across the country during the annual member event held at the Hilton Bankside in London.

The new Outstanding Member Awards celebrate the innovation and commitment in the sector – with categories open to individuals and teams whether they were just finishing their first six months as an apprentice or had dedicated their career to childcare. 

Nominations could be made to four categories, each designed to capture the diverse range of skills and experience working in childcare today. The categories were: Outstanding Early Years Individual of the Year, Outstanding Early Years Team of the Year, Outstanding Newcomer of the Year and the Lifetime Achievement Award 2018.

The Outstanding Member Awards 2018 winners were:

  • Outstanding early years individual: Kate Shepherd from Bright Sparks Playgroup in Hereford
  • Outstanding early years team award: Steady Steps in Gosport.
  • Outstanding Newcomer Award: Lydia Coveney, St Alban’s pre-school in Macclesfield
  • The Lifetime Achievement award: Carol Imms: volunteer at Mill Lane Pre-school Association in Broxbourne

Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch said:

“We were so excited to launch our first over Outstanding Member Awards this year, and the calibre of the nominations we received surpassed our high expectations.

“All across the sector, there are passionate practitioners – both paid and volunteers – working tirelessly to deliver quality care and education, and provide vital support to local families, and it was such a pleasure to be able to celebrate this through our awards.

“All of this year’s winners and nominees demonstrated a commitment to the early years and a willingness to go beyond expectations to support children and families, and they should be very proud of what they have achieved.”



- Kate Shepherd from Bright Sparks Playgroup in Hereford (Outstanding early years individual)

After first attending Bright Sparks – which at the time was managed by her mother – as a child, Kate later took up Alliance training and while bringing up her child, successfully completed a Bachelors in Early Childhood Studies. When her mother retired, Kate took over Bright Sparks as manager and has since worked tirelessly to ensure the setting’s survival, successfully lobbying councillors, the LA, local schools, parents and her local MP while still finding time to support her team, boosting morale and developing their professional training. Despite these challenges, under her care and leadership, Bright Sparks Playgroup has progressed from a ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’.

- Outstanding early years team award: Steady Steps in Gosport.

Manager Julie runs the busy nursery and pre-school in this military town where children experience a significantly high level of parent absenteeism. Working closely with parents, the team recognised that many children in their care struggle with anxiety and anger. To address this need, Julie created a new role of Emotional Health coordinator and she was delighted when Diane soon joined the team. Together, they manage an intervention project which offers a fresh, low-key and new approach to providing specialist emotional support. The team is now sharing their expertise with others, while still finding time to deliver a training programme and resources to benefit others across Hampshire.  

- Lydia Coveney, St Alban’s pre-school in Macclesfield (Outstanding Newcomer Award)

Lydia first joined St Alban’s pre-school for work experience then took up her NVQs while volunteering for the setting. She’s now a full time member of the team and Key Worker for 19 children. Lydia is also studying for a Foundation degree. The team describe her as a ‘young star’ and feel incredibly lucky that she works with them. Her nominator, Elaine, describes her as an exemplary team member who always gives 110%.

- Carol Imms: volunteer at Mill Lane Pre-school Association in Broxbourne (Lifetime Achievement award)

Carol spent 40 years at Mill Land Pre-school Association as the Permanent Secretary and worked hard to ensure the smooth running of the organisation so that the other pre-school staff could concentrate on the children. Her charm, creative ideas and ability ensured children and parents felt part of everything, and Carol raised funds at countless events, ensuring that the children at the setting had access to the latest equipment and opportunities. Since a serious stroke recently, Carol’s incredible work at the Association has unfortunately been cut short, but the team there have very fond memories of her time at the setting.


  • The Pre-school Learning Alliance is the largest and most representative early years membership organisation in England. A registered educational charity, it also provides high-quality affordable childcare and education to support children and families in areas of deprivation throughout the country. 
  • The Alliance represents 14,000 member settings and supports them to deliver care and learning to more than 800,000 families every year. We deliver family learning projects, offer information and advice, produce specialist publications, run acclaimed training programmes and campaign to influence early years policy and practice.