A high-flying job in TV news and a busy life as a mum of twins has prepared Helen Gration for a career as a nursery owner

TWENTY years ago, Helen Gration was a successful director of TV news and on duty when Princess Diana died.

"I remember the news coming in at 5am in the morning. It was one of the most significant events in the world," recalls Helen.

She worked on other memorable stories too, notably the Dunblane massacre, where former scout master Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and one teacher before committing suicide.

"It was horrific. The pictures we were seeing were not ones we could broadcast. We had to be selective. The raw emotion and grief was awful.

"It is very different to the concept of news today – now we are so aware of images. They are out there on YouTube and Facebook. It worries me that children are exposed to a much harsher side of our world. That is what we have created."

What our children see on social media is a worry for all parents, and Helen is no different. She is mum to Harvey and Harrison, 14-year-old twin boys, whom she had with husband Harry (presenter of BBC's Look North) through IVF.

She became a mother at 35 and admits it was a massive turning point in her life. Up until then, the focus had been on her career, but when she moved to York with Harry after his appointment at Look North, she suddenly felt broody. And when the boys were born – six weeks premature and weighing less than 5lbs each – her maternal powers took hold with a vengeance.

"When I was doing my O Levels, A Levels and degree, all I thought about was my career. I belonged to a new breed of women. But when I reached my early 30s, I thought: 'I'd like to be a mum. Is that alright please?'.

"We needed some help and went through IVF and came out with these two gorgeous boys – that's when I became this fierce lioness."

She dedicated herself to being the best mum she could be – all the hard work, long hours and professionalism she was used to in the fast-paced world of TV news, she now applied to life at home with the twins.

Ten years ago, an opportunity arose to buy a local nursery and Helen was up for the challenge.

"I'd grown up with grandparents who were really entrepreneurial. I saw the opening as an opportunity to run a nursery and bring up children the way I was bringing up my boys."

For Helen, that meant following the Montessori method laid down more than 100 years ago by educationalist Maria Montessori, who prescribed a child-centred approach to learning focussing on the development of the whole child.

Helen says: "I loved the passion with which she spoke about children's possibilities. That they can do whatever they want to do. It's about giving children the possibility to explore what they want to explore."

For her boys, Harrison is a rower and keen actor; Harvey is cricket mad and already plays for Yorkshire. Helen's eyes widen as she imagines their futures – following paths they are passionate about. This is what she wishes for every child, and certainly for those who attend her Montessori nurseries, of which two are in York – at Fulford and Strensall – with another in Leeds and a fourth to open in Headingley in the New Year.

Helen is now in her seventh year as a trustee on the board of the National Day Nursery Association, representing Yorkshire and the Humber.

In recent months, the industry has gone through big changes, accommodating the government's new policy of providing 30 hours a week of free childcare for three and four year olds of working parents. York piloted the scheme, which has been controversial because many nursery owners argued it was underfunded, requiring parents to pay "top up" fees in order to make it viable.

While that is true, there is no getting away from the fact that giving working parents 1,140 free childcare hours a year is easing family budgets.

"It's brilliant and about time," says Helen. "This country has got to look after its youngest and eldest far better than we do."

Her one big gripe is with the name. "The government call it a free hour, but that is misleading parents. We have had to educate parents. It is a funded hour, from government, but there is also a fee to pay that covers the things that parents choose to buy into."

This "fee" covers things such as nappies and wipes, food, trips and extra activities at the nursery and varies from provider to provider.

It means Helen can continue to offer her particular type of care, which includes the services of a professional chef who uses organic products and highly trained staff, many of whom have degrees or are Montessori trained.

Helen turns 50 next year but admits to giving it little consideration. She is aiming to carve out a little bit more "me time" by taking up Pilates again. To keep in shape, she runs a loop around Knavesmire – which is on her doorstep – and regularly walks her bearded collie Maisie. "It is when I am away from it all that I come up with my best ideas," she adds.

She says the adrenaline she felt running a live TV show is similar to the thrill she gets now at work. However, her TV ambitions have not disappeared completely – and may resurface once her sons have gone to university.

She says: "There is a TV programme that is rattling around my head – I might put pen and paper to it."

Find out more at: yorkshiremontessorinursery.co.uk