Former Alumnus of the Month and local business owner James Hempsall OBE enrolled at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) on the Graphic Design programme in 1986, he has since gone on to establish his own business Hempsall Consultancies Ltd and is the co-director of Leicester based furniture shop Harriman and Co.
He is a passionate proponent of lifelong learning and advocate of early years and childcare programmes in his role as director of Hempsall's, having worked on numerous local and national government projects in this sector. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of Hempsall's, over which time James has enjoyed extraordinary success.
Although his studies focused on design, James took a variety of jobs after leaving university, including a role with the city council working at a craft and skills community centre. Discussing this formative experience, James said: "I had never really considered working with children before this, but I was assigned to work on a junior arts programme for 5-11 year olds.
"I really enjoyed my experience here, which made use of my degree knowledge, but also taught me how to coordinate, organise and manage groups and teams. As a result of this opportunity I began to pick up more and more work with the council and my specialism developed into early years education, however I still rely on my design experience every day when running my business.
"My time at De Montfort studying Graphic Design gave me some excellent fundamentals which have a wide application in the world of work. I still take the lead at Hempsall's when it comes to brand development, marketing and corporate identity. Many of our projects have strong marketing elements which require social media, web and brochure content along with merchandise which requires designing.
"There is a strong synergy between the identity of the company and recurring themes throughout our work so far. Perhaps more than this though, I feel teams can always benefit from someone with a 'design focused' perspective, as training in this field gives you the ability to learn about, understand and find novel solutions to problems.
"I feel one of the best developments in higher education in recent years, which DMU has led the way in, is developing connections with industry and giving students practical work skills and experience. Leaving university in the late 1990's, this support just wasn't as readily available and I think it provides a fantastic avenue for students to get into employment.
"I started working independently in 1999 when the country's National Childcare strategy was less than two years old and developing rapidly. Early years and childcare was used to being a Cinderella service, often ignored or excluded from wider strategies, and funding was almost non-existent. The national strategy was rightly ambitious, but it was an enormous challenge as there were capacity and capability issues everywhere.
"It soon became apparent an informed approach to such challenges and a methodical attitude was in high demand. The business became very busy, very quickly and we've continued to go from strength to strength since."
In recognition of his contributions to early years education and childcare, James received an OBE in 2015, he said: “What received the notice of the honours system was my work with two year olds.
“As the National Director of Achieving Two Year Olds: 2012/16, I led a team that supported the Department of Education’s (DfE) implementation of a key national government commitment to fund 15 hours of high quality early learning for up to 250,000 of the country’s least advantaged children.
“This helps ensure they start early learning a little sooner than their more advantaged peers, with the aim of reducing the achievement gap and offering greater equality of opportunity. The programme achieved a take up of over 70 per cent and continues funding over 150,000 children each week. We've now assisted over a million children with this initiative and it's something I'm extremely proud of accomplishing.
“In 2016 when the project finished, I soon became the lead for the DfE Childcare Works programme which is supporting local councils to implement 30 hours childcare for three to four year olds for working parents.
“Everyone knew this one was going to be a tough ask. And they were right. But we didn’t shy away from the challenge. That said, parental demand has been high, and not one week goes by without a parent sharing with me their story of what a huge difference this has made to their family choices. Over 300,000 children use such a place each week."
Alongside these national programmes, Hempsall’s has continued to deliver a wide-range of projects such as business support for providers, up to 1,000 training workshops and events a year, childcare sufficiency assessments and other research, and coordinating TALK Derby - a DfE funded speech, language and communication programme.
James had this to say about his 20:20 vision for the next twenty years of Hempsall's development: “Change has been such an enormous part of the past two decades. I hope this continues as policy-makers have come to realise the many positive outcomes of good quality early years services for children and their families. No longer do we need to hammer home the arguments about early identification of need, early intervention, school readiness, children’s brain and physical development, and the impacts on employment and family opportunities. Politicians also know how popular such entitlements are with parents.
"If we were to invent early years and childcare now from scratch, would it look like this? I guess not. The 20 years has been a journey with high levels of incremental change sometimes at large scale, sometimes small. The passion and commitment in this sector is high and willingness to get things right. However, there is a need for a plan of long-term, high value investment to truly establish the sector and gain wider recognition of its value to society.
"Ultimately, I hope we will be much closer to the rewards we all want and need from supporting our youngest and most vulnerable children, and their families. Because childcare changes lives.”
We're wishing James all the best for the future of Hempsall's as we head into 2020.
Posted on Thursday 19th December 2019