Meet Norfolk’s answer to Mary Poppins
- Credit: Brittany Woodman
You’ve got the date, venue, dress, flowers and rings sorted for the biggest day of your life. The DJ is booked, the menu decided on, and a great time is sure to be had by all. There’s just one more thing… who’s going to look after the kids? Sounds like you need the help of The Wedding Nanny.
With 35 years' childcare experience, 54-year-old Joanne Hadfield from North Walsham is providing brides, grooms and guests with the perfect solution to their childcare needs. Norfolk’s own Mary Poppins will show up to any big day or family event, bell tent and array of games in tow, ready to keep little ones occupied.
“My aim is to take the pressure off all the friends and family,” says Jo, who officially set up her business, The Wedding Nanny, three years ago, but was prevented from working by the pandemic – until now. So far, it’s booming.
Jo came up with the idea after attending a wedding as a guest – where the children were running riot. “They were just bored,” she says. “So, I thought it was a service I could provide because I’m qualified. I thought it would be a good way of putting all my years of experience into something different.
Jo qualified at City College Norwich aged 18, then went off to London where she worked as a private nanny. She returned to Norfolk in 2000 and set up as a registered childminder, going on to take a position in a nursery.
During the week she works one-on-one with a child who has autism and is home-schooled – a job she was actually offered after working at a wedding. Weekends though see her transformed super-hero style into The Wedding Nanny.
Before any big day, Jo likes to chat with or meet her clients, and exchanges lots of emails to find out the important things; the age of the children, so she can take along age-appropriate toys and plan activities, and how many will be under her care so she can arrange extra staff if needed, ensuring an appropriate adult to child ratio. She checks if there are any medical needs or allergies too.
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Parents can be confident that their little cherubs are in safe hands as Jo and her team have decades of collective childcare experience between them, are fully DBS checked, and are also qualified first-aiders.
On the day, or sometimes the night before, Jo will show up with her 5m-wide bell tent. “I’d been umming and ah-ing about getting it, and I thought ‘I’m just gonna get it, and if I don’t use it, we’ll go camping!’” she laughs. But it’s been a fantastic new addition.
“We just found that lots of places haven’t really got the dedicated space for us, so we wanted somewhere which was just ours, and nice and safe. Grown-ups and mums and dads can come in and sit and we can all play together. So far, it’s been a real blessing.”
The bell tent has so far gone down well with the many venues Jo works with across the county. Maybe surprisingly, they’re not worried about her pitching up on their manicured lawns. “I think they realise, especially because lots of these venues are stunning and quite often there is water close by, we all want the children to be safe and not running around. We do lots of different venues. The tent means we can go from somewhere like Holkham to someone’s back garden. It’s versatile. And the kids come first, you’ve got to adapt, haven’t you? We can do that.
“Everyone wants to let their hair down, rightly so, and we can forget that just as we haven’t been out with our friends for two years, also our children haven’t been out either. They can be quite overwhelmed with lots of people, in a place they don’t know, wearing differing clothes. Mum’s in a dress, dad’s in a suit, where he might usually be in jeans and a T-shirt. They need to have something just for them, and it’s lovely.”
Every wedding is different, and Jo tries her hardest to suit the needs of her clients.
“We use a lot of Orchard toys, which is a Norfolk-based company. We have gentle, nice things that help with imaginary play, and lots of Lego. We also bring along hula hoops, a parachute, a small climbing frame for younger children, hairdressing and doctors kits.
“The one thing I’m a stickler for is that I don’t want children to be sat on screens when they’re with us, so we don’t have anything like that.
“We do craft as well, which is really nice, so they can paint little pots and take them home as a memento of the day.”
Although Jo and her team are there to look after the children, youngsters aren’t required to stay with them. “After 35 years’ experience, you know when a child won’t settle with you, so you know to either take them to the parent or distract them,” she says.
Typically Jo arrives while a couple are getting ready. “Because of lockdown, weddings have been cancelled, so lots of couples have gone on to have babies during that time,” she says. “Quite often, I arrive in the morning while the bride is getting ready and I’m looking after the children. I always get a run-down of the plan of the day, and if they’re going to the church for a certain time, I make sure the baby or child is dressed, awake, fed and everybody is happy.
“I’ll often go to the church, bring the children back to the venue, take them back again for photos. Every wedding is completely different. Then I stay up until midnight - basically doing what nanny and grandad would do. It means no one is worrying about who has got the children.”
There is always the option of booking Jo as an evening babysitter too.
“My last two weddings I just did the babysitting. The girls were bridesmaids. I turned up at around 7pm, put them to bed and stayed with them until mum and dad got back. For another one we were there for five hours with eight children.”
The coming weeks and months are busy for this new business, which Jo is hoping to expand across Norfolk and beyond.
She has bookings through autumn, right up to Christmas, and is already planning to buy another bell tent to create a sensory room.
Clients are loving what this wedding supernanny is doing too. “I’ve had them most beautiful feedback,” she says. “I have flowers, cards and photos sent. I’m doing a wedding in August and the mum has messaged me to say ‘We really want you to come to the rehearsal dinner and have time with us’. People tell me, ‘I’m so glad you’re here’, I really love it.”
You can find The Wedding Nanny at facebook.com/theweddingnannynorfolk/
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org