Meet the Team
Ruth Salway – Head Teacher
Ruth first joined our company in 1998 as an Early Years teacher and Supervisor. As Head teacher she now leads and inspires a strong team of well qualified and motivated Early Years Professionals, Teachers and Practitioners in the effective delivery of pre-school education and child development at Willow Cottage.
Ruth grew up in Plymouth, coming to Oxford to study for her degree in teaching. She was one of the first in the country to achieve her Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) in 2007.
Julie De-Banks – Area Manager and Eynsham Setting Manager
Julie joined our company in 1990 having achieved a Diploma in Pre-school Practice. As Area Manager, she is responsible for the daily operations and systems that make for high quality and smooth running of the nursery settings. Julie oversees the Health and Safety and Safeguarding at Willow Cottage.
She manages admissions, waiting lists, staff training and career development in liaison with Ruth Salway (Head Teacher).
In 2010 she was HIGHLY COMMENDED in the national Nursery World Awards as a finalist in the Manager-of-the-Year National Awards, being recognised for her commitment and dedication to raising standards for the children and the staff she serves.
Sam Hitchman – Bletchingdon Manager
Sam joined Willow Cottage in early 2016 to establish and manage our Bletchingdon Setting. She is a graduate and hold Early Years Professional Status. She is an experienced Forest School leader and helps our other settings develop and diversify their outdoor play and education.
Toni Gaul – Farmoor Setting Manager
Toni joined out team in 2016 at the Farmoor Kindergarten Room Leader before taking on a pioneering role developing quality teaching and practice, working across all of our setting. She holds foundation degree in Early Years and in 2019 she became Setting Manager for Farmoor.
Jim Grady – Operations Manager
James Grady (Jim) joined Willow Cottage in 2013 to support the directors and management team with the ever increasing demands of the nursery sector. He works hard behind the scenes to ensure the smooth operation of nurseries, supporting both the administration team and the setting managers to ensure the nursery runs to the highest standards.
Adam Grady – Quality Manager
Adam has joined our team as our Quality Manager, with the aim of developing and promoting the wonderful work already being done at Willow Cottage; supporting our management team in our continued commitment to high quality childcare.
As Quality Manager he will look to be continually improving the practices, processes and behaviours that underpin a safety culture (His favourite phrase is “What Went Well? and what could be Even Better If?”). He will Lead on quality related investigations and complaints. Coach, train and mentor staff to develop their knowledge and practice.
Lisa Constable – Finance & Administration
Lisa joined Willow Cottage in 2020 but has worked in the Early Years sector for almost 25 years. With both hands on practice and management experience, and putting her own through nursery, Lisa has hit the ground running supporting our parent’s with the the smooth running of their accounts.
Angela Willson – Nursery Admissions, Safer Recruitment and HR.
Angela joined Willow Cottage Nurseries in 2013 and brings a wealth of business skills and personnel experience to our Administration team. Angela may often be the first point of contact and support for parents and families enquiring about availability and admissions. Angela is also involved in the recruitment and selection process of our highly successful team building programme.
Valerie Grady – Director
Valerie is the Founding Director of Willow Cottage Nurseries overseeing the pre-school education, child development, recruitment, food and nutrition.
Born in Witney, she grew up and went to school in Eynsham and later studied Food Science & Nutrition at Queen Elizabeth College under Professor John Yudkin and Professor Arnold Bender, and gained her first degree from London University in 1975. After her marriage to Neil, she gained a Post Graduate Certificate in Education at Warwick University and later taught Home Economics in Coventry before opening Willow Cottage Nurseries.
In 2009, Valerie updated her nursery skills by gaining Post Graduate Early Years Professional Status at Oxford Brookes University.
Valerie is committed to raising standards of Nursery Care and Pre-school Education through establishing competent teams of professional and motivated staff.
Neil Grady – Director
Neil is the Managing Director, overseeing daily operations and the business administration.
Neil became an executive director at Willow Cottage in 2002 after a 25 years career in IT business systems design and development within the private sector serving the Ministry of Defence. He works alongside his wife Valerie (Founding Director) to ensure that our nursery systems support high standards of childcare and pre-school education.
In 2008 Neil was appointed to the Oxfordshire Schools Forum to represent the 325 Private, Voluntary and Independent Providers of Early Years Education & Childcare.