One of of the provocation questions through the #RadicalChildcare campaign asks: How might we make Birmingham the best place to raise children?
On my journey home to Birmingham from NearNow in Nottingham yesterday I considered that question and dreamt up this answer. It is an extension to my childcare utopia (blogged about here). This is my Shangri la... a place based response, one of *near total fantasy at this point in time but something that I truly believe would make Birmingham the best place to raise children.
Welcome to The Children's Hub.
The Children’s Hub opened in 2018 in an old biscuit factory in Digbeth, Birmingham. It opened thanks to a successful kickstarter campaign, which reached £200,000 in 60 days. This was soon matched by a series of philanthropists and trusts who together generated over a million pounds to open the doors of this epic place that celebrates, supports and champions childhood.
The Children’s Hub was build by architects and designers in collaboration and consultation with children’s groups in Birmingham. The space has an extensive outdoor area, and a series of modular indoor spaces that can be re-designed and re-made to the wants and needs of the users.
The building uses the latest environmental initiatives to generate its light, heating and water and has been heralded as a SMART centre which means that it is carbon neutral and uses technology to intelligently manage the operation and functionality of the multifaceted space.
The onsite café serves nutritious, organic and seasonal dishes for all. The café serves predominately vegetarian and vegan foods in an effort to reduce meat and therefore energy consumption. Toddler Tapas is a popular menu and an exciting way to introduce young children to different tastes, smells and textures and with the help of the roof garden the café attempts to grow its own.
The café’s success helps to finance other parts of the venue including the arts programme. The arts programme has an international reputation for bringing the very best in dance, theatre, music, visual arts, film and contemporary circus to children in Birmingham and this work is integrated throughout the building as each studio has a performance space and visual art is visible around every corner.
The 4th floor is made up of a collaborative workspace for companies & individuals hosted by Impact Hub Birmingham, the majority of whom work for children. These include; Unicef, Holiday Kitchen, Active Kids, the Fostering & Adoption service and the fundraising team for Acorns Children’s Hospice. Plus there are social entrepreneurs, environmental charities, design agencies, policy makers, artists, educationalists and philanthropists. Your company doesn’t have to work directly with/for children to qualify for membership however you must align your work to the wider ambition to make Birmingham the best place to live, work and raise children. Impact Hub Birmingham at The Children's Hub strives to be a network of amazing citizens, makers, doers, entrepreneurs, activists and dreamers committed to building a better Birmingham and a better world.
As the companies work side by side they get to talk, informally network and collaborate on big and small ideas that benefit the wider community and they collectively work on projects that look at; health, wellbeing & poverty.
The building itself houses Co-kid the first day-care setting in Birmingham to offer pay as you go childcare and parents can chose to work on site from the co-working space at Impact Hub should they want to.
Co-kid is housed in The Children's Hub and has part of the converted roof garden as its urban forest school. It follows the Reggio Emilia approach, an education philosophy that is child centred based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community, through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment. It is based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum. It offers flexible pay-as-go childcare, full time nursery places, summer schools, and wrap around care. When a child turns up to co-kid they are immediately entered into digital register which has functions that are much like a project management application such as basecamp or trello, mixed with whatsapp or snatchat. Updates can be sent to parents and grandparents throughout the day which can include video/photos to see how a kid is getting on. It's also a scheduling app so you can see if there's space within 30 mins of needing it and book your kid in on the go. There is a minimum slot of 1 hour and longer slots of up to 6 hours.
The Children’s Hub specialises in training parent co-ops which includes all facets of running a childcare co-op including children’s first aid, safe guarding and an early years programme for parents interested in creative learning methods such as Reggio Emilia and Montessori.
The Hub also facilitates a ‘Children and Babies Library of Things’ where you can borrow baby equipment, clothes and toys for as long as you need them and donate un-used items back to the community. This is a growing initiative to cut down on consumption and the commercialisation of childhood and uses principles from the collaborative and sharing economy to benefit families in Birmingham.
Although the Children’s Hub does not offer formal and statutory education the Children’s Hub supports ‘Hack Schooling’ and runs an extensive hack school programme for children, young people and families who value autonomous learning. Workshops include – free running, physical computing, survival skills, economics, social activism, veg growing, engineering, mindfulness, health and an urban forest schools programme for children up to 16 yrs old.
There is currently a large open-sourced community project to create a history curriculum that remembers the history of all people, concentrating on those currently underrepresented in mainstream historical narrative. Plus a children’s feminism series and summer school with Balsal Heath WI. Both these ideas were pitched and funded at the Family Birmingham SOUP, which is held at the Children’s Hub every month. SOUP is a democratic microgranting community lunch where community projects pitch and the audience votes on who should get all the money raised from the door.
Research is an important facet to the Children’s Hub and partnerships with the main universities mean there are often research studies and PHD students working from the hub on early years research and child development studies. The most popular research programme last year was a study on Sleep. This included a public workshop programme and unconference exploring the subject.
The centre users are diverse and the children’s hub has an integrated outreach programme and its own bus that collects families from the farthest points of the outer and inner ring road taking them to visit The Children's Hub every Saturday to coincide with a free programme of activities for families.
The Children’s Hub boasts the title of the first ever Think Tank for childhood and relentlessly lobbies local and central government for better outcomes for children and families. This has included a successful reform to early years regulation to include parent co-operatives and a campaign to recruit more men into early years work.
The Children's Hub is my response to the question: How might we make Birmingham the best place to raise children?
Care to share yours? Or can you build on this idea?
#RadicalChildcare is an initiative to explore, imagine and invest in bold new possibilities for the future of childcare.
Based in Birmingham, we want to work with parents, grandparents, professionals in the sector; commissioners, policy makers, educationalists, serial entrepreneurs and many others to develop and test radical solutions to enable children and families to thrive.
As part of our Open enquiry into the childcare system we are hosting a number of events and activities in order to involve as wide a range of perspectives as possible. If you'd like to share your thoughts or be kept informed of events, submit your contact details here.
*Please note that this piece of writing represents a 'made up' story. A Birmingham of the future, the companies mentioned are here to demonstrate my ideas/values.
Impact Hub Birmingham does exist as a network of amazing citizens, makers, doers, entrepreneurs, activists and dreamers committed to building a better Birmingham and a better world. Visit Impact Hub Birmingham's website here.
Birmingham SOUP also exists SOUP gives residents the opportunity to learn about creative projects happening in Birmingham and vote on the project that they believe is the best benefit to the community. It feeds the needs of small enterprises who require help and guidance and gives them the opportunity to pitch for micro-funding, share their project ideas and network with like-minded people. Visit Birmingham SOUP's website here.