THE founder of Bournemouth-based Tops Day Nurseries has been named the most influential person in childcare.

Cheryl Hadland established the business after struggling to find flexible care for her own children 28 years ago.

Its original nursery in Rossmore is now part of a group of 20 across the south.

It has recently made headlines for environmentally-friendly practices such as banning glitter, bringing back glass milk bottles and making its own baby wipes.

Ms Hadland is an international speaker on the subject of eco-sustainable day nurseries, the founder of the environmental charity GECCO and founding organiser of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Early Years.

She was named the most influential person in childcare at the NMT Top 20 awards at Canary Wharf. Those voted into the top 10 were given the job of deciding amongst themselves the winner of the top title.

Ms Hadland was running Poole Dive Centre in 1990 when she struggled to find flexible childcare at a time when she said play schools were opening from 9am-12noon.

“Play schools were offering 9am-12. That’s not enough for a working parent,” she told the Daily Echo last year.

“Even now, most nurseries are open 8am-6pm and that’s it. You can make more money doing that but it’s not about the money.”

Tops nurseries, which include one at Royal Bournemouth Hospital, open at 6am.

The Boscombe-based Hadland Care Group now includes Reside Care Homes, which she set up after looking for a home for her stepfather, and Aspire Training Team, which runs courses and apprenticeships.

While building her business, Ms Hadland raised three children and a stepson, most of the time as a single mother. She also took a masters degree at 40 and kept up a busy programme of voluntary work.

She was one of prime minister David Cameron’s “early years trailblazers” but quit the post when the government said all child carers should have GCSE English and maths. “I’m happy to have people who are useless at quadratic equations look after my under-fives and other people’s under-fives as well,” she told the Echo.

“I need people who are really caring and empathic and can speak and communicate well.”

Dr Richard Hawkins, editor-in-chief at NMT, said: “We are very proud of what the nursery sector does and the many outstanding people who work within it, offering superb care to such important members of our communities. NMT Nursery Top 20 recognises the people and businesses that are really driving the sector forward and offers them a great opportunity to share and spread their positive influence to a much wider audience.”