How would you describe Famalam in a nutshell?
FAMALAM stages engaging events spanning art, creativity and social good for children and parents navigating parenting and play in the 21st century, one of our key projects with Impact Hub Birmingham is #RadicalChildcare an initiative to explore, imagine and invest in bold new possibilities for the future of childcare.
When and why did you decide to run co-working pop-ups with childcare?
Whilst on maternity leave with my first - Theo I read a report by Nesta called - Mothers of Innovation. I found it hugely motivating, it detailed the many ways that Mothers can change the world. The report explains that socially, commercially and economically, mothers are a force for innovation around the world and explains how and why mothers make such great innovators. I also came to the realisation that my working life was never going to be the same and that now more than ever I had to find work that enabled me to spend quality time with my family as well as work that was rewarding. I was struck with how difficult the childcare conundrum was for everyone, especially freelancers like me, as for many, traditional childcare – a nursery or pre-school setting, can prove expensive and rigid, with long waiting lists, large deposits, rigid contractual days and fees that duplicate the household mortgage or rent payment. It was serving industrial 9-5pm workers and like many my work didn’t match up, being freelance can mean droughts and busy periods, it can mean working evenings or early mornings and I couldn’t find childcare to fit. It seemed like many people made choices about childcare based on economic reasons, not necessarily what seemed best for the child. Going to work in order to afford childcare seemed incongruent to me. I, like many, see the childcare industry, largely run by private companies as hugely flawed. The best provision goes to those who can afford it rather than those who need it, our poorest children miss out. Front line workers are often young women on minimum wage, there is little professional development or career progression for these young women but yet they are given the mammoth task of helping to raise our children in their most formative years.
I was a year into motherhood and disillusioned with my childcare options. I wanted to sense check with others in my situation and was invited by Immy Kaur at Impact Hub Birmingham to host a discussion. We hosted a lively conversation with a brilliant bunch of mums, dads, nans, policy makers, funders, artists, freelancers those with and without children on the complexities of the issue. Whilst babies and toddlers played I shared my #RadicalChildcare utopia, we explored what radical innovation in childcare might look like in Birmingham and discussed examples of other models from other parts of the UK and beyond, what made them successful and considered the specific needs of our community, especially freelance and nomadic workers.
A few months later Arts Council England awarded me some funding and in 2015/16 we piloted 2 seasons of co-creche at Impact Hub Birmingham, a pop up co-working space with on-site childcare for working parents from the creative industries plus a season of stay and plays.
How did it work?
The idea was simple – get some professional childminders in a room, supported by parent playworkers with some resources, toys, musical instruments, play kitchens, teepees etc. and offer to look after people’s children whilst they worked downstairs. It was offered on a pay what you could afford basis and it worked. Sessions were 3 hours and a local children’s centre advised me with the logistics - the staff ratios, health and safety, child protection etc. Parents who hadn’t used ‘traditional’ childcare yet – either because they felt that traditional childcare wasn’t for them or because their babies were only months old, were able to gently stretch the distance between them and their babies and see how it felt. The atmosphere was (mostly) serene and moms could come and go to breastfeed and check in as much as they liked.
What was the response from local parents?
“For me co-creche means creative and safe space for both me and my kids. With this unique formulae I become more productive, focused and my work, therefore, better. And my kids learn what it means to be a happy worker. I think it is an invaluable investment into our present and our future.”
A quote from Tina a mum and theatre maker who used the co-creche.
Having never tried traditional childcare, it is difficult to compare, but when I was considering putting my baby into the nursery I experienced the feeling of anxiety that every mother has when she has to leave her kid for the first time. Co-creche was relaxed and easygoing, it gave me opportunity to work, while knowing that my kid is just upstairs and I can visit as many times as I want; just to see him through the glass door happily playing with other kids or getting inside to give him a cuddle when he was upset or even breast feed him if he was hungry. I felt I was there for him, and I didn't just leave him in a nursery and went. It was also good to get to know lovely ladies, childcare professionals who were there every week to take care of our children. One of them had her baby in the co-creche which felt more personal, like a community.
We had a three hour slot to work in an inspiring space of The Impact Hub co-work office. You can not believe what two mums can do in 3 hours! Seems like after having kids we get some super-power over time and we become focused and productive, making most of the time that we have. Usually we juggle with working from home, surrounded with nappies and toys, baby cries and feedings. Being surrounded with other workers, amongst desks and computers, coffee machines, flip charts and books was a great feeling, it felt very grown up. And I think that is what every mum needs, some grown up time.
A quote from Kristina a mum at the co-creche.
What were the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is stacking up the money side of things. Fundamentally childcare is not a profit making business and should be considered a social enterprise. Impact Hub kindly gave the space for free but as we had lots of babies to look after our ratio of child to staff had to be higher and therefore we barely covered costs. For this pilot we had received subsidy but this is definitely the biggest challenge facing this kind of offer, which is why the industry is so flawed and needs reform.
What did you learn from the pop-ups?
Our biggest learning was that this was too important to just be a pop up initiative and so in February this year we have launched a Parent Membership at Impact Hub Birmingham which includes 12 hours a month of co-creche and an additional 2 days access to Impact Hub Birmingham for £55+Vat/month. We have entered into a contract with a childcare provider and have an additional skills trade programme where we offer our premium membership (worth £240/month) to volunteer playworkers in exchange for 12 hours of their time. Playworkers can be parents and must be experienced in the care of young children, they received playworker training including child protection and a DBS check.
Why is this so important to you? What have been your own experiences of juggling work and traditional childcare?
During this #radicalchildcare journey I have heard very sad tales of prospective visits to private daycare settings. One mum told me that she came back after a ‘settle session’ to find a young 16 year old girl who had been given charge of her 3yr old, engaging her daughter by cutting out pictures of toys from an Argos catalogue and making a collage of what the little girl wanted for Christmas. Government rhetoric is about ‘getting women back to work’ an economic argument, rather than one that imagines the best possible provision for our young children through this critical stage in a child’s development and I believe that this is to the detriment of everyone. The feelings surrounding childcare for parents are generally wrapped in an amount of shame, guilt and limitation and I saw FAMALAM as a way to engage people, children and families in this conversation.
What's next for Famalam?
I have received funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation to explore the feasibility of a Birmingham 'Children's Hub' - a multifaceted space that would combine an arts programme, childcare space, social enterprise and community venue focused on celebrating, supporting and championing childhood in Birmingham. The Children’s Hub would be a permanent home for the #RadicalChildcare work and will convene a unique ecosystem of partners, resources and inspiration in order to grow opportunities for children in Birmingham.