Aurora Early Education expansion sees Doncaster centre set to open in August
Currently with one centre, in the Melbourne suburb of Rowville, Aurora Early Education is set to expand in August, with the opening of a second site in Doncaster.
Given the success of the Rowville site, rated as exceeding the National Quality Standard, coupled with the unique philosophical practice and business acumen of founder, Sheela Edwards, The Sector spoke with Ms Edwards about the upcoming opening, seeking to learn more about the process of expanding from one site to two, whilst retaining the quality for which Aurora has come to be known.
Firstly, we wanted to learn more about the consultancy processes Ms Edward’s worked through in preparation for the shift, and how these included children and educators.
“From the moment we began designing the building, we’ve had several meetings with our staff members and our Parent Advisory Group (PAG) telling them our thoughts and asking for their feedback. We reflected on the feedback from each of these meetings and incorporated some of it into our design.” Ms Edwards said.
She then outlined the process in which architects chosen to work on the Doncaster design visited the Rowville centre, presenting the planned designs to educators.
“The architects showed us a 3D model of the building which allowed our educators to visualise and ‘walk through’ the rooms. Educators’ feedback was very important and welcomed and informed our final selections of the fittings and design in the new building. Educators interacted with the different product options to decide which ones would be the best choice for Aurora.”
Several meetings with consultants and experts were also involved, including:
- Audiovisual consultants
- Electrical consultants
- Air flow consultants
The landscape design for the Doncaster site is said to be modelled on the Aurora philosophy, incorporating the five natural elements – fire, earth, water, air and space.
“Teaching our children to light a fire (always under strict and adequate supervision, of course) will be a wonderful experience.We envision our children and educators sitting around the fire in a beautiful community experience which will enhance their connection with each other and with nature. Such experiences bring our philosophy to life.” Ms Edwards said.
Moongates, a traditional architectural element popular in Chinese gardens, have also been incorporated in various places in the centre to depict the circular nature of life and the environment, Ms Edwards said.
The core feeling Ms Edwards and the architectural team wanted to evoke was a feeling of openness.
“The feeling of having space within a building was important in the design and we wanted to allow our children to move freely within the space without restricting children to a single room.” Ms Edwards said.
With six rooms, a feeling of being at home was important, she added. Special spaces have been designed, such as the library nook, to inspire a feeling of places to relax, as well as to be active or to create.
Parents have also been considered in the design, with a cafe space built into the centre which will have a coffee machine, a barista and easy freshly made takeaway food.
“We also believe visitors may begin stopping by to pick up coffee which will enhance the children’s feeling of connections to the community around them.” Ms Edwards said.
Deliberate and intentional choices
At front of mind when designing the centre was the past two years of growth and reflection for the Rowville leadership team.
“How can we make educators’ lives easier?” was a core question driving design choices, big and small.
“We want to enhance their sense of connection to us by making sure that we are looking after their needs. Many of our design choices (for Doncaster) have been informed by this.” Ms Edwards noted.
“For instance, we have set up a custom designed drainage system which allows water from cleaning tools like mops to be automatically drained; this ensures that the staff do not need to go outdoors to drain them or the water simply drips on to the floor for the educators to clean up.”
“We have created a deliberately designed planning room which they can use as a quiet space. The staff room is designed to be spacious and the idea is to create a space for staff to relax in their breaks and to take time out of the normal, energetic environment that we’re working in.” she added.
High tech audio visual equipment has been incorporated online training can be given to staff, allow staff to connect in real time with the Rowville Aurora service, or participate in training with overseas pedagogists.
A biophilic space has been incorporated into the design, allowing children and educators to connect with nature, and a neighbouring church hall will be used for mindfulness and yoga opportunities for educators.
A legacy build
The Doncaster site was not so much about yield per square metre, Ms Edwards said, so much as it was about designing a quality, fit for purpose space.
“My view about the early years sector is that this has got to be the long game.”
“My message to those who really want to have an impact is that you have to invest in leaving a legacy. To do this, think big, think tall and think long term. Spaces have a huge impact on the early years, and this needs to be looked at holistically to ensure the best outcomes.”
A guiding force in decision making was the perspective of “profit with a purpose”, Ms Edwards said.
“While of course, we are a commercial organisation, I would say that Aurora focuses on profit with a purpose. That’s one of my key drivers. When I look at buying simple things like a resource for the rooms or investing in a big project like constructing a building, it’s the same philosophy and thought process that I use in making decisions.”
Gaining educator buy in
At times when a new team is receiving the benefits of a purposefully designed space, staff in an existing space can be jealous or resentful. When asked for her thoughts on how to best address this, Ms Edwards said:
“One of the things we have been very mindful about is that everyone should ‘be on the bus’ in this journey. We have been careful to take our staff with us in all our processes, and we recognise the immense value that their experience and support has brought to our our own experience and knowledge.
In a simple example – when it came to buying chairs for the staff in Doncaster, we had the staff in Rowville testing them, sitting on them and seeing what was comfortable and what was not. We asked them about their opinions of what lockers we should include in our centre etc.
Our decisions were therefore the result of a consultative process. It’s important because we aim to inspire a sense of belonging. We’re not creating two centres, but a one Aurora organisation; one organisation in two different locations.”
Educators who will be working in the Doncaster site were given an opportunity to work at Rowville to understand the pillars and culture of Aurora.
“You cannot grow a culture in a new team without giving them the opportunity to experience how it works first hand.” Ms Edwards said in closing.
To learn more about Aurora Early Education, please see here.