Meet the Team

Deborah Grant

Deborah Grant

Willow Den’s Chief Executive Officer, Deborah, brings a unique skill set from the charitable and Social Enterprise sectors alongside Early Learning and Childcare (ELC). She has more than 25 years of experience leading and supporting organisations and individuals to reach their potential, both in Scotland and in Canada.

She believes that outdoor pedagogy is key to health and wellbeing as children develop their critical thinking, a sense of

responsibility and an understanding of the world we live in. Tackling inequality has been her career-long goal by creating opportunities that enable children, young people, and grown-ups to thrive. Deborah as well as being a qualified ELC practitioner has a BA in Business and Enterprise and an MSc in Entrepreneurial Leadership. She is also a Trustee for both the RDA and Take-a-Bow Musical Theatre. At home, she spends time with her family, horses and dogs.

Louise Collingwood

Louise Collingwood

Willow Den’s Head of Finance, Louise, is a Chartered Accountant with over twenty years experience across accounting practice and financial services. During this time she has worked with a wide range of businesses from small start-ups to international banks.

She developed a keen interest in child development and equity through work with her children’s school, where she is chair of the Parent Council, and other volunteering.

When not at work she enjoys spending time at home with her family and getting out and about with their dog. 

Pauline Wingate

Willow Den’s New Locations Manager, Pauline, brings with her many years of working in an ELC and Primary school setting as a Business Manager supporting the management teams within local authority schools and nurseries.  Prior to this Pauline worked in the private sector within Procurement predominately in the Medical and Electronics sectors.

Pauline is a keen volunteer with many community groups where she lives.  Among those is Scouting, helping support the local group preparing young people for the future and developing new skills.

She is also an active member of local groups fundraising throughout the year to enable annual events aimed at children such as Gala Day and the Christmas light switch on to event take place.

She enjoys spending time in her garden and taking walks in the country with her family and friends.

 Kathie Nicolson 

Willow Den’s Administration & Finance Assistant, Kathie, brings a breadth of business support skills to the team. She has worked across a range of sectors in Scotland over 15 years, including start-ups, social investment and grant-making. 

Kathie’s passion for early years development was sparked after having her own children and cemented working for a leading early years funder. She understands how investment in providing high-quality, safe, nurturing but also challenging environments for children during their first years can have the greatest positive impact in shaping their development and futures.  

Outside of work Kathie enjoys making the most of the incredible Scottish countryside, building dens and hunting for fairy houses with her children as well as baking and reading.

 

Meet the Willow Den at Spartans Team

Amy McGlinchey

As Manager of Willow Den at Spartans, Amy is a huge advocate of outdoor play having built a career in early learning and childcare over the past fifteen years. Her love of the outdoors prompted her to complete the Level 2 Forest Kindergarten training, as well as completing specialist courses on rope and tool work with children. 

Amy’s experience includes roles as a Senior EYP and most recently as an Outdoor Learning Coordinator, she has used her enthusiasm to promote outdoor play at every opportunity. She wholehearted believes that all children have the right to play and learn in the great outdoors. 

In her spare time, Amy enjoys family life with her partner, her young daughter, and two cats. As a family they enjoy getting outdoors as much as possible, they all love a good camp out! At home, Amy is often found cooking up big family meals, or she can be found outside tending to her wild garden.

Satoko Kojima-Kirylczuk

Satoko (Toko/ Toto) has been specialising in Early Years Education for about 10 years. Satoko is deeply interested in the magical reaction between children, play and nature. Recently, she participated Forest School Leader training which transformed her interests into her true profession.

Prior to working with children outdoors at Willow Den, Satoko carried out Forest School sessions for pre-school children and participated in nature play sessions with young children, as well as teaching Japanese language.

As a mum of nature loving daughter, Satoko has witnessed the increased confidence and happiness within her own daughter as a result of spending time outside, and she believes nature is the best stimuli to be awaken everyone’s curiosity. She is happy for children to experience the everyday wonder that being outdoors can bring, and to be part of that journey.

Satoko is a passionate allotment holder and enjoys cooking with her own harvest. With her electric bicycle she cycles for miles exploring Edinburgh and the surrounding areas.

Laura Weston

I grew up in Edinburgh with squirrels on my shoulders. While studying ecology at uni, I started working as an environmental educator with schools in Edinburgh, and continued that for 12 years. I love sharing my passion for nature and helping kids to grow in confidence by getting muddy, or climbing trees, or being creative, or just trying again.

Recently I completed an MSc in the Psychology of Mental Health, and now I’m very excited to be part of an inspiring team at Willow Den and back outside with happy children! I often have leaves in my hair and pockets full of natural treasures, and am happiest either at my pond, on a beach, next to a campfire, or on a netball court.

Jo Fitzpatrick

Jo is from Ireland and has worked in the great outdoors for over 20 years. After gaining her BSc in Outdoor Education she travelled the world and worked outdoors with young people in New Zealand, Asia, Canada, Austria and Switzerland before returning to the UK to complete her MSc in Outdoor Education at the University of Edinburgh.

She is at her happiest outdoors and is passionate about increasing opportunities for connection to nature for young people due to the holistic benefits it can bring to people’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

As a Lowland Leader, Bushcraft Instructor, NNAS Tutor and most recently a Forest Kindergarten trainer, Jo is looking forward to continue developing her skills and is undertaking an SVQ with West Lothian College in childcare.

In her spare time, Jo is a keen sea kayaker, hiker and rock climber and is involved in leading and assessing young people in their Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. She enjoys photography and good coffee and although Jo lived in a Swiss ski resort for 2 years, she claims she cannot ski and was only there for the chocolate and the cheese!

Cara Welsh

Cara joined the Willow Den Early Years team in 2022, having started her HNC in Childhood Practice in 2019.

Cara has just completed a year volunteering with Under the Trees a charity running outdoor learning sessions in local green spaces and school grounds where access to green space is not possible. She has also just completed the 1st year of a BSc in Psychology.

Cara is passionate about all aspects of child development, particularly how experiences influence and shape the developing child.

Cara loves spending time outdoors with her 6 children and 2 dogs – near the sea is her favourite place to be! She also loves baking and reading in her spare time.

Meet The Board

Gary Le Sueur

Gary Le Seure - Board Member

Gary is a co-founder and former partner of venture capital firm, Scottish Equity Partners (SEP). In his current role as Senior Adviser, Gary is responsible for the firm’s clean energy fund. Over the past 22 years, he has played a key role in more than 40 investments and realisations, with a particular interest in the clean energy and sustainability sectors.

Prior to specialising in venture capital, Gary worked in corporate law with Shepherd & Wedderburn Solicitors, before moving to the structured finance group within Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and then National Australia Bank. 

Gary is currently a non-executive director of clean power developer and operator, Vital Energi, as well as being responsible for SEP’s investment in smart-grid software business, Smarter Grid Solutions. Gary is also a non-executive director of the investment company, Martin Currie Global Portfolio Trust. Gary’s significant experience of fundraising and of supporting growing businesses is of great value to Willow Den.

John Farmer

A native of Edinburgh, John graduated MA (Hons) in Economics from Aberdeen University in 1990 and embarked upon a career in business in the advertising and marketing industry. In 1998, he took a one-year full-time MBA at Cambridge University.

He then moved to London to work in the technology and telecoms industry providing billing systems to media and advertising clients. Since returning to Edinburgh in 2008, he has continued his business interests in technology with more active involvement in the Scottish charitable sector. John is a founding board member of Inspiring Scotland believing in the need for long term support and funding options as a means of meeting some of the key needs of charities in Scotland.

He has a particular interest in investor relations and fundraising activities as well as the growing development of the social finance sector and the possibilities for the role of social enterprises in the broader Scottish economy.

John has travelled extensively and, in recent years, he and his wife have undertaken annual voluntary working positions with Burmese migrant children on the Thai/Burma border. This has led to an involvement with a number of charities working on the development of education in Burma. 

Sharon Mooney

Sharon Mooney - Board Member

With more than 20 years of experience operating at an executive level within FTSE 50 organisations working across marketing, sales, and strategy and operations, her professional expertise has helped the charities we support to improve their working practices and help more people.

Qualifying as an accountant in Australia, Sharon has more than 30 years of accounting experience and has worked across a range of sectors and countries.

She also obtained an MBA from The University of Strathclyde Business School.

Sharon spent over six years in Scotland’s largest independent provider of children’s residential and fostering services, giving her a robust understanding of the needs of looked after children and the impact that adverse childhood experiences can have.

This motivated her desire to strengthen the third sector and improve the lives of young people. In her spare time, Sharon enjoys travelling across the world but is also very contented travelling across Scotland in her Campervan.

Willow Den Associates

Karen Harrison

Karen Harrison

Karen is a director and nursery and outreach manager of the Shieling Project.  Karen has developed a passion for education which builds strong resilient communities and encourages sustainable active citizens.  Her MSc in Learning for Sustainability allowed Karen to put theory behind her practice and has been a strong influence on the Early Learning and Childcare offerings at the Shieling Project.  

A BSc graduate of Glasgow University, in Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry she found Environmental Chemistry and Archaeology very inspiring for how the past can help us inform our future in the most positive ways.  Karen studied teaching at Strathclyde University and taught secondary school Science and Chemistry in the Highlands. 

Karen is a valuable associate of Willow Den bringing a breadth of experience in creating sustainable early education spaces and experiences alongside developing critical compliance frameworks for delivering high-quality outdoor environments. 

Karen has a passion for family adventures, bees and all things homemade.

Rachel Cowper

Rachel Cowper

Rachel leads on the design and implementation of both Thrive Outdoors and the Island’s Green Recovery Programme at Inspiring Scotland. Since 2009 Rachel has been actively increasing outdoor play and learning opportunities for children throughout Scotland.

Her experience in the outdoor play sector has made her a leading voice in helping to change and shape attitudes towards play at a national policy level and on the ground. Her work on Thrive Outdoors has led to international recognition and cooperation with similar programmes and leading academics in the field of physical activity, play and play-based learning.

Alongside her outdoor skills and knowledge, Rachel brings 20 years of experience in business management and economic regeneration (FDI)  and business development. Using that skills set to support companies across the Scottish Islands on the environmental ambitions for economic growth and recovery.

She was instrumental in developing the plans that brought Willow Den to fruition, ensuring that more children in Scotland benefit from access to outdoor play.  

Rachel’s outdoor life continues at home where she farms cattle and sheep in Ayrshire and on the Isle of Bute. 

Mairi Ferris

Mairi Ferris

Mairi has long been a passionate advocate for children, play and the natural environment.

She brings a wealth of experience in early years, childcare, children’s rights, workforce development and quality improvement. Prior to joining Inspiring Scotland’s Thrive Outdoors team in 2017, Mairi was the interim Chief Executive at outdoor learning social enterprise Stramash and spent eleven years with Fife Council as Early Years Partnership Manager.

Mairi works specifically on outdoor early learning and childcare for the Thrive Outdoors team leading on their partnership with Glasgow City Council.

Mairi is a qualified ELC practitioner, has an MA in Social Policy a professional award in Leadership & Management and trained as an Improvement Advisor with the Institute of Healthcare Improvement in 2015. She is currently studying part-time for an MSC Education.