Flexible Settings Meet-Up

Last week we brought together co-creche settings from across the country with the intention to convene a network for the future, explore different practices, the challenges, why it works for children, for parents and how as a network we can support each other to develop this kind of provision and the #RadicalChildcare movement further.

With a loose agenda for the day, conjoining creche room set up for any smaller guests, and enquiry questions lining the walls (such as Why is flexible childcare important to you? What are you main challenges? and What are your hope & visions for the future of this kind of work?) we welcomed practitioners to the space, with everyone introducing themselves and the settings they’ve joined us from.


Who’s in the Room?

Amy Martin from #RadicalChildcare and F A M A L A M (session lead), practitioners from Manny & Me (London), Officreche (Brighton), Bloomsbury Beginnings (London), V22 Workspace Creche (London), Isel Work Creche (Birmingham), PlayPen (London), Caboodle (Bristol), Farm Work Play (Kent), Third Door (London) and Impact Hub Birmingham.

Key Themes

The session took the form of an open, roundtable discussion, which touched on interconnecting points around childcare systems, the highs and lows of setting up and running flexible provision, as well as the stories and motivators behind these settings.
Here are some of the discussion points from the day:

Childcare & Gender

“They get to see their mums working, but they also get to see their mums.” – Leo Wood, PlayPen

The first to speak was James from Manny & Me, a London-based childcare agency who champion the intertwining of education and childcare, and currently have more male than female nannies (“mannies”) on their books. This theme of gender within settings continued in some of the discussion points throughout the day, with Leo from PlayPen speaking around the positive impact of children seeing and understanding that their parents work. Shazia of Third Door also shared the story behind her company’s name, based on the idea of giving women a ‘third option’ when it comes to being a mom, rather than either going to work and not seeing their children, or not working. In London you start going down the path that everybody else is doing and it takes a certain step to go your own way”, she explains. Generally each initiative described a good balance of genders across users in their settings, with a range of working parents and carers using the provision.

Business Models

“Collaborative forms of childcare are good ways for communities to operate together to survive, but it’s hard – especially when you’re struggling to make a normal business model work with childcare.” – Tara Cranswick, V22 Workspace Creche

Bringing this group together, it felt like everyone was very open to sharing practice and picking up tips on how to run their settings in a sustainable way. Elizabeth from Officreche explained she had closed the provision in Brighton to focus on consulting after 6 years of experience. Everyone loved it, but not enough. People want amazingly flexible provision!” she says. Jo from Farm Work Play added, “I can’t even begin to express all of the challenges we’ve faced doing this. It’s not for the faint hearted.”

Whilst the challenges were clear, and the group found comfort in being together with others who understood what this takes to make flexible provision work, some settings in the room had been running successfully for over 8 years, such as Third Door. “Nobody was offering flexible childcare at the time, we were one of the first. Now we’ve built up a good reputation with a strong ethos. It’s not enough to have a good idea, you’ve got to make it work”, says Shazia. Tara from V22 added, “I think in this business model it has to be funded, with business model on top of it. We’re a not for profit, but do want it to be sustainable.”

The group, a blend of commercial and not-for-profit ventures, expressed an interest in the idea of mapping the business models each were using to better understand the possibilities and share best practice to help others set up.

The ‘Why’

It’s much bigger than us, it’s about changing society.” – Shazia Mustafa, Third Door

As conveners of the conversation, the #RadicalChildcare initiative at Impact Hub BIrmingham is interested in the broader role of children in society. “Even if we were all smashing it, there are still bigger systemic conditions and challenges. What do citizens need to make their places better?” – asked Immy Kaur, expressing a provocation for what it would be like if it was more normal for children to be around, as part of participation and decision making. This opened up the conversation beyond the functionality and logistics of making these childcare provisions happen, and into why they matter and what their founders hope to achieve in the world.

Ann from Bloomsbury Beginnings shared: “It’s been part of my aspiration over the years to get people together. The most powerful collaborations have been when we have a variety of start-up parents in a room together. Our starting point is a community centre that has a local resident population from a range of backgrounds, but it very quickly splits into class distinctions; of those people who can afford to be there or are volunteering and people who are being paid to work there.” There was a general expression of supporting and empowering parents by giving them options, the benefits of making childcare more relational and combatting different experiences of isolation, but that everything they do really is for the children.

What’s Next?

Amy Martin asked, “How can we share our practice?”, rounding off the conversation by explaining that #RadicalChildcare is a  movement that needs a volume of people to contribute too; sharing the ways people work and with plans to run a #RadicalChildcare systems accelerator to support different outcomes for children. The group were super keen to stay connected, and work toward something collectively, be this a toolkit for setting up flexible provisions or other ways of pulling their resources together. A follow up from the session included connecting everyone around the table to a shared facebook group to continue discussions and plan next steps together, with Jo of Farm Work Play adding that they would love to host the next conversation at their setting in Kent.

A huge thanks to everyone who joined us for this session for their times, energy and openness. To find out more about #RadicalChildcare and how to get involved, including our upcoming season of Learning Circles, please visit bit.ly/RadicalChildcare.

Photo + video credit: Thom Bartley