Get to Know: Debbie Ashby and Helen Pearson


Introducing the new owners of our onsite nursery, Sandmartins Nursery Ltd

We are proud to have an outstanding Nursery facility onsite at York Biotech Campus, providing care for children aged from three months to five years old. Earlier in the year, the staff at the nursery were presented with the possibility that it could close after 24 years of operation. However, having worked at the nursery since the very beginning, Debbie and Helen were not ready to see Sandmartins go, and made the decision to take it over.

Having navigated the tricky process of changing management, all while during lockdown, we caught up with them both to find out more about their relationship with the nursery and what makes Sandmartins so special.

First of all, congratulations on your new roles as Directors of Sandmartins Nursery Ltd! What made you decide to take over the nursery from the original management in the first place?

D: When we found out that the nursery might be closing, we were devastated, both myself and Helen have worked here for many years and we weren’t ready to leave by any means. We worked closely with the great team at York Biotech to look at other options to keep the nursery going and decided to take a leap of faith and take it on ourselves.

How did you find the process?

H: Going into lockdown in March made an already tough task even tougher, we had to get creative to navigate these challenges remotely. For instance, we had a phone interview with OFSTED to make sure we received our accreditation in good time. The onsite management at York Biotech Campus have been really supportive all the way through, which was a big help.

D: We also couldn’t have done it without our staff team. They have been a great help in getting us up and running in time and the children have been so excited to see them all again.

You’ve also launched a new brand and website for the nursery too, what prompted the change?

D: We wanted a fresh start for the nursery and were keen to improve our visibility in the community. With a website dedicated to our services, we can reach a wider range of parents, as we take children from all across Yorkshire and the local community. We’re excited to launch the brand alongside York Biotech’s new identity as well, signifying a fresh new start for all.

H: The new logo was designed by someone close to the nursery, so they were able to capture the essence of our business here. With the two birds representing the nest of sandmartins we have near the nursery; the bear illustrates that we are close to a woodland and the heart in the middle shows the warmth of the nursery and its staff.

How long have you both been working at Sandmartins nursery?

D: I joined as part of a wider nursery group when Sandmartins opened in 1996 and Helen came around 10 months after I did.

H: We met when we were both studying at York College back in 1984, so we have known each other for a long time!

So, you have been at the campus over 20 years?

D: Yes that’s right! We still see parents on Campus today who brought their children into Sandmartins when they were in nappies and are now going to university and buying their first home. There is even a full-time employee onsite who used to come to the nursery as a child. It means we have a strong bond with the people and the Campus itself.

I can imagine that even in 20 years you have never worked through anything like the current COVID-19 pandemic. How have you had to adapt your business to the challenges of the new normal?

D: In line with government regulations, we have had to place the children in their own bubbles and have adjusted our space to allow for this. We have two large areas at the nursery which we have been able to place dividers up in to keep bubbles separate.

H: We’ve always had high levels of hygiene in the nursery, but we have started a very strict routine of deep cleaning and sanitisation.

D: We have regular honest conversations with parents about the health of their children. It is vital that they are open about even the smallest sniffle, as we can’t take any risks at the moment.

What do you like most about working at York Biotech Campus?

D: The rural setting is a great benefit for all. York Biotech Campus is a very peaceful and beautiful backdrop for our work, putting the children close to nature.

H: The management team onsite are also a great help as well.

What is the best part about the nursery for parents working onsite?

H: It’s very comforting to parents to be close to their children at work, knowing they’re only across Campus has put many worried parents’ minds at rest. Around 45 per cent of our children come from families who work onsite!

And finally, how do we get in touch with you if we are interested in bringing our children to Sandmartins?

D: You can give us a call on 01904 462238 or email us on and we will get back in touch to organise a time for you to come and meet the team and take a look around (in line with our Covid-19 Risk assessment).

H: We provide a range of flexible services here, offering care on varying days and times to suit the parents and we do also offer emergency care for families in crisis.