June O'Sullivan, chief executive, London Early Years Foundation (LEYF)
Help improve home learning environment: This is where the majority of social value can be found. We need to encourage lots of real life activities for parents to do with their children. The most powerful activity is talking and reading.
Quality AND affordability are essential: It's always been critical for us to marry the two, in any which ways we can. It's far from easy, but by working closely with local community organisations, families and authorities – as well as developing strong relationships with a small number of key funders - we find we're able to do this.
Kate Brayne, company secretary, Wylye Coyotes After School Club CIC
Tailor provision: The USP of a local social enterprise is that they can tailor their provision around the specific needs of their community. For example, we used to open our breakfast club at 8am, then because one parent asked if we could open at 7.30, we did, and four other families followed suit.
• Jill Cunningham adds: many parents, especially those looking for first time childcare, are looking through different eyes at their childcare options. In our case our USP is the flexibility we are able to offer
Importance of the staff team: Wylye Coyotes is set up as much to offer employment and training as to offer childcare. This reminds us that we need to be flexible, and to offer our employees support. This can make organising staffing a logistical nightmare, because we give everyone flexibility, but it also means that staff reciprocate by working shifts at short notice, or dropping shifts if we don't have enough children. This helps with the long term sustainability.
Use an accountant who understands CICs: We have used the same accountant for several years, but we have paid far too much corporation tax because our grant funding was all taken as income, and therefore ultimately counted into our profit, whereas actually it should have been exempt! (See CIC advice - Ed.)
Specialised Knowledge: Each local authority is different. I would always suggest talking to the childcare development team in any LA area before doing anything else – they will have the best picture of local demand, and may be able to help with start up costs. LAs have a statutory duty to provide sufficient childcare – if they already have enough provision, they are unlikely to offer help.
Forest Schools ethos: An interesting development may be the increasing interest in Forest Schools provision in the UK - this been around in Scandinavian countries for years and we're just catching on to the benefits here. The Forest Schools ethos fits very comfortably with social enterprise – may be real growth area
Cezara Nanu, founder of LeadershipMum, centre manager, Platform 51
Utilise social media, but be aware of limits: Social media is valuable, but it can be very exclusive. In this day and age, it is easy to forget that there are parents out there who do not have access to computers or the Internet. There are also parents whose native language is not English, and parents from various cultural backgrounds who may have different perceptions about engagement. All these things need to be taken into account to ensure a participatory approach.
• June O'Sullivan adds: Chat rooms and website discussion sites can be scary as people rarely go into detail and it can provide quite limited information. It can also freak out a parent when they get the end of another parent's rant which may aggravate their worries about leaving their child
• Jill Cunningham adds: We run workshops through our training social enterprise in social media to engage young parents
• Sean Mcginty adds: There are lots of local businesses who rely on Facebook and Twitter to get business and I see no reason why child care etc should not be able to do the same.
Worker-run nurseries strengthen communities: I have initiated one such nursery myself based on ensuring staff and parents are the shareholders, as long as they work for the nursery or their children go to this nursery. The examples I've seen help strengthen local communities. Such social enterprises can support parents to return to work, address their health and wellbeing and ensure support for those who need it.
Parental engagement differs significantly: In affluent areas, parents are most likely to engage with childcare provision. These are the parents who purchase fair-trade products and support ethical business. In more deprived areas however, parents are least likely to engage with childcare and education in general.
Lack of empowerment: this has been an issue in hire communities for generations. This is one of the reasons social enterprise or co-op nurseries are most needed in these communities. They are least likely to be appreciated and understood at first, but if they are based around community centres and start working with the parents alongside children, they prove a success. What the parents lack, besides equal opportunities, is empowerment and encouragement.
• Flo Awolaja adds: It is certainly an issue of empowerment. This has been the one of the main reasons why we have written our book, Black Children in care; Health, Hair and Skin, to do just that: empower foster carers and those in the care system to be comfortable when dealing with issues pertaining to the care of Black and mixed heritage children in care.
With, as well as for, the community: Social enterprise childcare provision is a long term investment. It can't just be a service for the community. It has to be a service WITH the community.
Resource: The charity 4Children have some very good publications on setting up out of school clubs, and I expect the Preshcool Learning Alliance have the same for Early Years provision.
Jill Cunningham, director, Care4Children
Local childcare development teams are out of touch: Although local childcare development teams do a grand job, our research shows they are out of touch. Perhaps it is time that local social enterprises, coops set up their own network to help new start ups, we would be interested in participating in such a scheme. As for start up funding from local childcare development teams, due to the cuts, we would think this is a non starter at the moment.
Research local supply and demand: By doing this, certain pitfalls can be avoided and a lot of best practice advice given. Ofsted are there to regulate the industry, but also can be a great avenue to receive a lot of advice from. Talk to members of your local communities to see what service they are looking for and keep them involved in the process as much as possible, as for us at the end of the day these will be our partners, clients and potential stakeholders.
Flo Awolaja, positiveimageproject
Small hubs are important: With issues of cost, time and flexibility being issues, parents would like choice, and sometimes that is not available with state run nurseries. This is where small hubs come into their own. They would hopefully be able to offer the choice and flexibility, as well as parents probably feeling more 'at home' with smaller run social enterprise nurseries.
Co-op nurseries CAN take on private equity nurseries: It is viable that co-op nurseries successfully take on private equity nurseries, because of choice, affordability and flexibility, through this personalised service the co-op movement can make significant inroads. After all we are in a free market economy.
Help parents understand the system: Given that some of these communities are from the lower socio economic group, who do they turn to, if they wish to access the services to start their own social enterprise nursery. It cannot just be all about those who are able to access and understand the system. What help is available for those who can't. Specifically I am talking about being able to understand the different funding streams and awards/grants to set up.
Neil Homer, founder, Imagine Co-op Childcare, now Co-operative Childcare
High turnover of staff: This is a key challenge in this sector, although I presume those settings that are worker-owned will point to turnover that is significantly below the norm, leading to better quality care and lower staff costs. At our co-op, we traded off early profitability for the right team ethics and working practices to achieve lower turnover.
Don't take social enterprise and co-op values for granted: Social enterprises and co-ops do have an edge because of their values but, there is a danger that this gets taken for granted. I can think of some social enterprises / co-ops that failed because they let their mission get out of sync with their business model and changing market conditions. Or they didn't take the threat of public sector settings (children's centres) and education policy seriously enough.
Co-ops and social enterprises have an edge: Future market conditions may make it more difficult for VC-backed chains to compete with the co-op's lower cost of capital and longer term investment outlook.
Think about franchising: Social franchising has been around for a long time, especially outside the UK, but has not really worked to any great extent here. But, I can see ways in which like-minded social entrepreneurs could work out the right boundaries between franchisor and franchisee to manage the obvious risks. I've no idea if the co-op is still thinking that way but the nature of some of its recent deals suggests it might be open to ideas.
Emma Harlett, operations manager, REalliance
'Feel' over structure: Parents very much go on the "feel" of childcare over and above corporate structure. However, I believe that it is easier to have a more responsive, friendlier feel if your decisions are taken locally and in relation to your families - a lot easier to achieve for a community enterprise (or a locally owned business) as opposed to big chains.
Understanding costs is key: we found that for our after school club really understanding the costs was key (sounds obvious I know but we weren't doing it). If there were days we ran at a loss, we had to make sure there were enough days making some surplus. It wasn't actually that complicated but took a bit of micro scale understanding.
Utilise local infrastructure: We also made sure we tapped into whatever local infrastructure we could find - for example using our local community accountants to do payroll was way cheaper than trying to do it ourselves and means staff can focus on the provision. our local scrap store is an endless supply of low cost art materials too.
Within sector support is key: In Bristol we have Bristol Association of Neighbourhood Childcare (aka BAND) who are able to provide quite detailed support as well as doing some networking. We have found them invaluable for the specialist knowledge regarding OFSTED and EYFS.
• Resource:BAND is funded about 2/3 by earned income - most of which I think is a contract with Bristol City Council and 1/3 grants. They do a load of training too which is free/very low cost to local providers. The training has really helped us to support staff and volunteers.
Paul Cotterill, voluntary director, Bickerstaffe Children's Services
Current constraints/blocks to growth/sustainability of social enterprise childcare:
1) Inevitable length of time it takes to develop good occupancy levels across the day and across holiday periods
2) Challenges of making it happen at smaller economies of scale than the big providers, who don't really bother with anything below 50 registered places.
Make clear distinction in quality, and contribution to child development: There is an opportunity for social enterprise and co-op childcare to succeed but only if we can really distinguish it from the private equity providers.
•Resource: See the link between good quality provision and later primary school attainment).
First step regarding initial grants: The Council Early Years Childcare team is worth investigating, but may depend on the childcare sufficiency assessment (which you can find online). In terms of getting initial development finance into co-op/neighbourhood schemes, it has occurred to me that the Regional Growth Fund might actually be a decent bet (assuming the government announces a round four at some point, round three has just finished).
Dave Boyle, author of 'Why co-ops should be the future for childcare' article
•Resources: Tips 1-10 are to get someone to sit down and work through the situation - you should be able to get that free of charge from the Co-operative Enterprise Hub. They'll allocate an advisor to come and meet you and talk about where you are, where you want to be, and give specific advice. And Co-operative and Mutual Solutions are great advisors.
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