The Odyssey Nursery operates eight nurseries in Dubai and pays rent of Dh741,000 per month Image Credit: Supplied

While schools in the UAE are all set to resume classes in September, there is still no news for nurseries and early learning centres to reopen. Now, faced with no rent relief or rent deferrals from landlords, many nursery owners in the UAE say they will have to shut down if not allowed to reopen soon.

With no rent relief, these centres are now under huge pressure and many have been asked to move out of their premises. A long-standing family-owned nursery in Jumeirah has stated that after all these months of closure the landlord has given them a rent deferral of two months but that’s clearly not enough. Over and above the rent there are operational costs, trade licence cost, and some staff to be paid. The monthly outgoing for this popular nursery is close to Dh80,000.

Lack of support from real estate sector

Shaun Robison

Shaun Robison, Governor, Early Learning Centre, says the rent being charged to nurseries and the lack of support from the real estate sector is killing nurseries. “Nurseries have not been given any rent relief at all, and in a few cases, nurseries have been evicited by landlords for other tenants. The lack of support from developers and landlords is accelerating the closure of nurseries as the rental overheads without any income is crippling,” he explains.

Nurseries are an essential part of any community, and dual income households rely on nurseries to care for their children and provide an essential service while both parents work.

“Other countries have re-opened fully, with guidelines. Dubai-based Babilou Nurseries that also operates more than 600 nurseries globally, have re-opened their other centres, and parents have responded to the guidelines put in place for social distancing, cleaning, and bubbles. The industry professionals here need to be trusted, and allowed to re-open like other countries. If hotels, swimming pools, recreational centres, gyms and even Shisha cafes can re-open. Why not nurseries?” asks Robinson.

He fears that if nurseries are not allowed to reopen there could be huge social implications for child development and well-being. “Young children learn best by sensory experiences, creative play and social interaction. This can’t be achieved with online learning.”

Children learn best by sensory experiences, creative play and social interactions, say experts Image Credit: Supplied

The Odyssey Nursery that operates eight nurseries in Dubai pays rent of Dh741,000 per month, and Dh8,900,000 per year as a group. Diana Roukoz, Nursery Area Director, says, “Some landlords have been cooperative, while others have not been so. On an average we have got less than a 20 per cent rent waiver,” she says.

Reopening plans in place

Like other nurseries, Odyssey has already created pre-opening and post-opening plans to ensure the health and safety of the children, their families and staff members. “There are several ways that we will be ensuring the appropriate amount of social distancing for the children,” says Roukoz. “There are several ways that we will be ensuring the appropriate amount of social distancing for the children,” she explains.

Diana Roukoz

These measures include allocating each child to a “family group” consisting of other children and classroom teachers, which allows the children to socialise and play with others, while maintaining proper social distancing.

“Our adult-to-child ratios will also be adjusted to better support the children while they are at the nursery. Our teams, including our registered nurses, have completed in-depth training regarding the new procedures, along with other health and safety training sessions. We will be checking the temperatures of all children, families and staff at drop off, followed by several rounds of checks throughout the day. In addition to this, the children’s belongings will be sanitised,” says Roukoz.

Talking about rental woes, Umair Tariq, Regional CEO, Kido Nursery (earlier Safari Kids), says they have received rent relief from only one landlord out of the three they deal with. “That’s only 25 per cent of our outgoing rent. With no revenues coming in we are struggling with the rest 75 per cent,” he said.

Legal help

Robinson says they are now looking at legal help to address the issue of rent. “Nurseries have been unable to open or accept any revenues since before March 1 and legally they would be able forgo closure payments of their commercial leases under Article 273 of the UAE Civil Code and terminate their commercial leases in the current situation. Without any announcement to re-open, and therefore accept any revenues, it is unfeasible to think that nurseries should still be paying rent and ancillary costs,” he says. Nursery owners have requested the government to intervene and look at the situation to offer some kind of relief, but "we are yet to hear anything," he says.