Week 7: Why not just say hello?

We're a fair way into our travels now, in fact we've almost completed New Zealand and are soon to move onto Australia. Our last week has taken us to Stewart Island, the southernmost point of the South Island. A destination mostly for birdwatchers, the island is a beautiful one, with natural reserves and some of the most rare Kiwi species, including the Kiwi itself. We stayed in a lovely beachside house there, a rare break from the canvas because we were unable to get any other accommodation; and Ben completed a night trip to find Kiwi, albeit he only saw the back of one.

From there we travelled to Dunedin on the south east coast, a location very much akin to Edinburgh, with some similar architecture and naming, but without the beauty of our lovely UK city. We had fun there, visiting their farmers market, and travelling out to the peninsula to see Albatross, Seals and Sea Lions.

Next up we visited Oamaru, cited as NZ's 'coolest town' by Lonely Planet. It has a small part of the town where all of the Victorian buildings remain, and lots of design businesses and cafes have moved in. It is pretty cool, but it's no Hackney or Stoke Newington, so perhaps we're a bit spoiled on the 'cool' front being from London. It's all relative! We did manage to see blue penguins there, both in an official 'experience' where you watch rafts of them come in from the sea at dusk; and on our walk home where we spied a few on the path, waddling along.

Our lessons learned have come thick and fast, and continue to do so. I've never been a hugely social traveller when on holiday, particularly when travelling as part of a couple. It's not that I'm unsociable per se, but often when you're away as a couple, it means you are having rare time to yourselves.

Travelling with a baby means you have no choice but to talk to people, and I love it. Old and young, they're charmed by little Otis (and if they're Asian, they pretty much want to kidnap him). He's an ice breaker, with people constantly asking us how old is, and laughing as he flirts with them. You share knowing smiles with other parents, and we've been lucky enough to chat to quite a few other couples who are sharing similar travel experiences. We've swapped contact details with some, and one couple on a camp site even invited us to stay at their home in New Zealand.

And yet, as we move into a new sociable mode of travel, you realise that some people are just So Bloody Miserable. I am now that person on a camp site that says good morning to everyone, starts up conversation as I wash the dishes, and coos over other people's children (no, I never thought I'd do that either). And it's so nice when people respond. Everyone's day is nicer when smiles and hello's are involved.

But some people look like they've been shot when you speak to them. Like it's the last thing they can possibly handle. They bluster a response, and I'm a bit sad for them that it's so shocking. At home, we walk a lot on the south downs, and there's almost a walkers code that you say hello to people you pass. You're all out there doing the same thing, why not say hello? Here as we've walked, it's very much a mixed bag as to whether people bother, which I find particularly surprising when it's a sparse walk people wise. If you're the only 4 people walking on a beach past each other, wouldn't you want to at least acknowledge that the others exist?

I know it's an alien concept in London, where you live life in a bubble, hoping to be able to block out the insanity of travelling to and from work, and along side that losing the recognition of people around you. This trip has definitely changed us to being people that like to chat, to find out more about others, and I think we're likely to end up living somewhere that facilitates that. In the meantime, to anyone reading this, next time someone smiles at you on a campsite, asks how your day is, why not give them a big smile in return and have a chat? I'm sure your day will be the better for it.

To follow our travels, follow us on instagram at @mastersofmany and @mywaymum and @naturedad

Week 6: I feel so small (said the Snail to the Whale)

This week has felt totally off the grid. We spent a few days in Milford Sound, staying at the amusingly titled Knobs Flat, and then on to the southern most point of New Zealand, on Stewart Island, with the aim of finding Kiwi's (the rare bird, not the NZ local). Both locations meant no phone signal, and no Internet, and although we keenly record our adventures on this blog and on social media, it was really quite nice to have a break from anything digital.

We agreed that on this trip there would be times where we both have experiences we'd like to try that just wouldn't be feasible as a family, and that we'd be able to take turns having them. Some compromises are fine to make as we travel. We understand it's not the same as travelling on our own, and there are new benefits to travelling as a family that don't exist when you travel as a couple. However, it would be such a shame to miss out on those things that you know you'll remember forever.

My first chosen experience was to kayak on Milford Sound. On our first day in the area, we did a cruise as a family, and whilst it was beautiful, the weather, and our perspective from the boat left us a little underwhelmed. Partly this was the hype that Milford gets, and we'd also recently visited Norway and seen the fjords there, which are utterly majestic, and seem to go on forever. Somehow the closed in feel of Milford, with it's towering walls of waterfalls didn't feel the same.

The next day I went on my kayak trip, to the same area, albeit with a blue sky and sunshine vs. our grey, cloudy experience the day before. The trip was emotional for me outside of the experience itself because it was the first time I had left Otis for more than about an hour and a half. He's been breastfed (and continues to be), and hadn't taken a bottle, so was literally glued to my hip aside from me heading for the odd run or swim.

Much as I love the little man, I've been desperate for some time to myself, to feel like me again. When it came to the day, I felt strangely emotional about the concept of leaving him behind. He eats solids as well as breast feeding now, but what if he wasn't ok without me for the time of the trip? Would I miss out on some major development? I arrived at my trip, and found out it was actually going to be 2 hours longer than we thought, which made the start of it all the more stressful.

The stress melted away as the trip began, because seeing Milford from a tiny kayak is an entirely different experience to a cruise. The walls seem to tower in on you, the water goes on for ever and is strangely deceiving in terms of judging distance. We kayaked to Stirling falls and back (20km), but when the instructor pointed to the falls in the distance at the start of our trip, we all estimated it at around 1-2k. The depth of colour and the light is magical, and despite boat trips whipping past you, you feel like you're in your own little world as you paddle along.

We read books to Otis every night (the same few at the moment, which can get a teeny bit tedious at times), and one of our favourites is The Snail and the Whale, written by the brilliant author of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson. The snail, which has travelled round the world on the tail of the Great Blue Humpbacked Whale, has a lovely passage in which it says, "and she gazed at the sky, the sea, the land, the waves and the caves and the golden sand. She gazed and gazed, amazed by it all, and she said to the whale, 'I feel so small'.

That's how I felt on the water this week. So small. The best travel experiences make you feel like that. They make you realise the enormity and endlessness of the world around us, and what a tiny part you are of it. They give you perspective on your own existence, and the best ones make you gasp at the wonder of what exists around us. I can't think of any better way for me to have had a break from being a mum for a day and to have felt like myself again.

I needn't have worried either, as Otis was obviously fine and greeted me at the end of the day with Ben, grinning and happy. And I was grinning and happy to see them both too. What a bloody great day.

Week 5: Sand flies and multiple cries

Week 5 of our trip and it really feels like we're travelling now, like this is our life for a while, not just a holiday. Our last week has included the latter part of Abel Tasman, which I wrote about last time. From there we went to Pohara, where we stayed on a stunning campsite next to a wide open white beach, the stuff of aspirational holiday commercials. Pohara enabled us to be near Takaka, a really sweet little town that we visited primarily so I could do some yoga. As such it has a ageing hippy feel, tie dye and bare feet abound. We drove from there west to Punakaiki, where we stayed on our favourite campsite yet. Another stunning, but more wild beach, filled with driftwood and surrounded by cliffs, this side of the coast has a very different feel to it, wild and prehistoric.

With that wild feeling came the wild weather. Storms and terrible predictions of weather to come made us change our plans, and a stay in Fox Glacier turned into a brief lunchtime visit, with a stay over in Haast in order to reach Wanaka, near Queenstown as quickly as possible, and benefit from their preferable weather forecast.

It's been a week of emotional highs and lows. We've been driving through some of the most beautiful countryside we've ever seen. Soaring mountains, bubbling rivers cutting through them, with moody clouds overhead and lush rainforest alongside the winding road. Driving is often turning into some of our favourite days (as long as Otis is asleep and happy), enabling us to really soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful country, and chat away about our trip.

The lows are centred far more on our considerations of how fair our trip is on our son, and often irrational parental guilt. We regularly curtail our plans to ensure his welfare is our first consideration. Walks are cut short, car journeys are planned meticulously around naps and extra breaks taken whenever remotely required. Time each day is spent ensuring he gets time to stretch out his little body and have solid play time.

All of this doesn't prevent you having moments of doubt about how travelling affects him. This came to a head this week, when we camped in huge storms. Both Ben and I have always slept well in tents when rain is battering down the canvas, but with our departure imminent the next morning, we lay sleepless, working out the best way to co-ordinate getting our tent down with the little man in tow. Our normal system of putting him on a mat with toys while we do the parts that absolutely require two people clearly wasn't going to work with gale force winds and horrendous rain.

Otis was fairly sleepless too, but he has been for weeks now, with multiple teeth arriving at once (to be fair to the little guy he's now on tooth number six, with several more on the way and he's only 8 months old). The noisy weather doesn't help, but ultimately most of it's teething, something that would be (and has in the past) woken him just as regularly at home.

We managed to get the tent packed down and away with the help of some kind neighbours who took him for the last 10 minutes, but when I went to get him he was in a terrible state (apparently surprised by the guy coming out of the caravan bathroom) that I was in tears as well as we put him in the car to start our journey, feeling terrible that he was in the back unable to be comforted. Add the parental guilt of the fact that sand-flies seem determined to get him, and the cold nights that challenge our layering skills, and yesterday it all seemed a bit much.

We made the decision to stay overnight in a B&B to take a break from the canvas. Excitement at comfortable beds, hot showers and a toilet that you didn't have to stumble to in the middle of the night affected us all, even Otis seemed to have a happy break from the teething. We anticipated a better nights sleep and felt relieved at not having to put our tent up in horrendous weather.

And yet the sleep was broken again. Calm conversations in the light of day always reach the same conclusions. He's had good nights sleep here and he's had bad ones. The variable that affects it all is those bloody teeth, not spending nights under canvas. Not being away from home, and most importantly, not our capabilities as parents. He's spending more time with both of us than he ever would at home, he's obviously excited at the new sights he sees daily, and he's progressing nicely with walking and eating. Ultimately, he's happy, and the things that affect that, would affect him just as much at home as they would here.

Parent guilt, you can sod off, we're doing ok.

Week 4: The Simple Life

The last week has taken us to wine tasting in Blenheim, to a couple of days in Nelson next to the biggest, awe-inspiring beach you can imagine, and finally to Abel Tasman, the national park.

Most of our camping to date has been in parks that also provide a huge number of facilities for families, most of which we haven't needed to use, they've just been in convenient places for us to stay. The warm showers and cooking facilities have been great, and it's been a really useful way for us to get to grips with camping with a baby.

Our most recent stop in Abel Tasman has been entirely different. Our camp is the only one on the trail you can reach by car, and it's run by the DOC, so the facilities are super basic (toilet, cold shower), and we're now literally cooking on gas (by the tent that is). We're completely off the grid here, no wifi, our phones don't work (which fills me with a little fear as we go off on long walks with Otis, despite us being wholly prepared), and you can't readily drive in and out of the park, as it's an hour on a dirt road.

Staying in places like this makes you realise quickly how little you need to actually be happy. Packing in the first place for a trip like this is a challenge, particularly with a baby, as you're attracted by gadgets that you're convinced you need to keep them happy as they travel. Ultimately much of what you're packing for them is to ease your own guilt, rather than it truly being a necessity. After you're away for about a week, you realise quickly that you could post half the stuff back and you wouldn't notice.

Couple that with the knowledge that you have a ton of stuff packed in your own loft; even more in your parents loft (my clothes mostly, so I can dig into them for a half year swap out in June when we're back), and you start to wonder what all of this stuff is actually for. One of my favourite books I've read in the last couple of years is Stuffocation, by James Wallman, a friend's husband. It talks a lot about the simplification of life, of what material goods you really need, and the power of experience. It was one of the prompts for this trip, but now that we're really living it, it really does make me realise how powerful a concept it is.

I won't lie and say I'm not going to still love clothes on our return (wherever that may be to), but there is a power in having such a limited selection that you barely think about it in the morning. Apparently it's the reason why people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg always wear the same thing. We have been creative with the food we're cooking through having very little to spice it up, but somehow we're really enjoying our dinners without the vast number of cook books I own at home. Our evening entertainment hasn't touched a box set, and is mostly chatting about our day and new plans, and how we feel about our family and our future.

Even Otis seems to understand the concept. He's far more enamoured by playing with the saucepans and spoons in our tent, or by grabbing the various fruit and veg we're using as we make our dinners than he is by the toys we bothered to bring.

The simple pleasures suddenly become amazing too. A cold glass of wine with our simple dinner is such a treat. Our house that we're renting at home went into profit the other day, so we treated ourselves to an inflatable mattress for the tent. So, so amazing! Slightly different to the extravagance that would have been a treat in London.

It all sounds a bit worthy, but it's really not. I'm not by any stretch saying that we won't want to live somewhere nice, or own nice things again. But we have had the odd conversation about the concept of living in a caravan (once we realised that one next to the most beautiful beach we've been to would cost you about £4k a year to live). We've both been surprised how little we've missed our home comforts, and how apparent it becomes which items are really important to you.

We're already planning to ship home some belongings before we hit Australia (sorry Mum and Dad), and discussing how we super streamline before we hit Asia and we're back packing properly. Having to carry everything you have, rather than just ditch it in a car quickly makes you want to have as little as possible, but it's not just that. Our priorities are changing, and fast. We're learning to live in the moment, something that is firmly reinforced by having all of our time spent with Otis. Kids know how to live in the moment in a way that adults forget. They learn something new (in his case, he can now do peekaboo with a blanket, and thinks it's hilarious) and it's all they can think about, and all they want to do. Watching that makes you realise how quickly you let the important stuff slip by in your normal life.

Living in the moment doesn't really mean having the right car, the big house, or the latest bag. It really isn't about belongings at all. Neither of us are sure exactly where this re-prioritisation will end up, as it's a stark contrast to the life we've been living in London, but we're pretty excited to find out.

To follow our travels, follow us on @mywaymum and @mastersofmany on Instagram

Week 3: Ten tips on camping with a baby

We're three weeks into our trip now, which is strange as it genuinely feels like we've been away for months. The learning curve has been steep, but fun, and so I thought this week I would talk about some of the learning’s we've had so far, particularly in relation to camping with a baby. We stayed this week for a few nights in an Air BNB in Wellington, our second in our trip so far, and we found ourselves hankering for our lovely camping space. I think partly it's that camping allows you to stay in some truly beautiful spots in New Zealand, but it's also that it's our home for the foreseeable, and we've found a way to make it work for us, so here are our tips to date:

(1) Buy a big enough tent

This one is key, particularly if you're going to be camping for a while - but even if you're not, having a tent with a sleeping space, a living space, and a little porch for storing stuff means you always have somewhere that's ok for the baby to sit in if the weather is bad, and you don't go mental living in the same space that your sleeping bag is in. 

(2) Do your research, and ask for what you want

There are good apps in New Zealand about camping, like the Camping NZ app, so you can check reviews ahead of time, particularly from families, and request particular camping spots that are better for you with a baby (e.g. further from the road, or in areas without groups in their 20's etc.).

When you get there, take five minutes to scope out the site, thinking about wind, the view, is it level, what are your neighbours like...if the camping spot doesn't work for you try and ask for something else that works before you pitch. There's nothing worse than realising you've got a terrible nights sleep ahead of you because you weren't proactive.

(3) The Erection (a title that sounds far more interesting than the reality...getting the bloody tent up)

Getting the tent up in the first place is a task that drives many couples I know to blows, but doing it with a baby in tow is a different matter. You have to accept that you're not going to be able to do everything together, so you need to work out your roles, and come to a bit of a system, particularly if you're arriving at camp at a time when feeding / playing / keeping the baby happy during the witching hour is relevant.

We've got ours pretty sussed now - Ben is more broadly responsible for the tent, I cover Otis, help on the bits that truly need two people, and sort everything that needs to go inside and any tasks that I can do while sitting alongside Otis (putting poles together, blowing up his portable cot etc.).

We have Otis set up on a waterproof blanket near the tent, with pillows around him, toys at the ready, and food if it's that time of day - and then he's sorted and safe for when we're both needed. Thinking ahead about what time of day you're arriving is key here in terms of how good your baby is going to be at just chilling out while you crack on with stuff (if you can time it so they're still asleep in the car seat, then happy days, but this hasn't worked for us so far! Try and avoid turning up really late if you can as it makes everything harder).

(4) Get organised - it's a tent, but you need a system

Our best tip here is getting long life shopping bags (the kind you always end up buying multiple of from Waitrose). We have these for dried food goods, our plates, tea towels, dustbin sacks etc., one for Otis's nappies and all of that paraphernalia, one for his toys and books...you get my drift. And then have the same place in the tent that these go each time - it prevents you both constantly going 'where's the?' - and most importantly allows you just to reach for something in the middle of the night if the baby is teething etc.

Likewise, in our rucksacks we use dry bags to organise our clothes, and it means you don't have to unpack all of your stuff at each camping stop, just grab the relevant bags.

Keeping the tent tidy & sorted not only helps your sanity with a baby, but it also means that you have some space to yourself that feels like it's living space, which is important in the evening when you can't just go to the pub!

(5) Layers, layers, layers...

This applies for you as well as the baby - but particularly for the baby - if you're camping somewhere like NZ then it's hot during the day, and often still hot when you're putting the baby to bed, but then it gets really cold overnight. Packing layers that you can add to them in their sleep when they wake for feeds is key, as is extra blankets you can add to them over night.

(6) Consider your sleeping arrangements

We have a great travel cot for Otis (the Koo-di - it's a bit like a small bubble tent - we use it with the additional blow up bed inside), and it's one that we've used at other people's houses and hotels pre coming away, so he's used to it. Having said that, if he's unsettled during the night, he often co-sleeps on the floor with us, and seems happier that way, so if you don't require a travel cot with you for other non-camping destinations that can work really well, and means you have less stuff to bring.

(7) Think about multiple use items

This particularly applies if you're back packing and camping, and want to minimise your packing. Think outside the box a little about how items can be used. We have a big plastic tub that serves as Otis's bath, a place for him to lean on while practicing standing, and also a storage box when moving from place to place that holds several of the long life bags of food. My scarf is a picnic blanket, sunshade, and extra blanket on cold nights. We have one bag that folds up into a tiny pocket that we use to transport extra shopping, get washing up to and from the tent, and get your stuff to the shower.

(8) White Noise is your best friend on a noisy campsite

One of the hardest things about camping with a baby is the amount of unreliable noise, particularly when you're putting them to bed, as it's often the liveliest time when others are having their dinner or drinks. We used Ewan the sheep at home, and have an app here (cunningly called White Noise) which has the same wave setting, so we can use that when putting him to bed, or for night-time wake-ups, or when we're coming to bed, so it off sets the noise of tent zips etc. Calming music in the evening also means you can sit and chat in the tent without having to whisper while you have your own time.

(9) Treat yourself!

Make the experience fun, particularly during the times when you know it might become tedious. Have beers / wine to hand for when you're putting the tent up. Think about nice food you can have when camping, particularly if you're not doing dinners out. We've made great curries in one pot when camping (and actually in NZ the campsites have great cooking facilities), and coupled with a good bottle of red, have still felt like we've had a lovely evening, despite not hitting the town. Cans of baked beans somehow wouldn't have hit the spot in the same way!

Having said that, on the night you arrive, make things easy on yourself. Have meat, cheese & bread prepared; or buy a rotisserie chicken - the last thing you want after having to put up the tent and then get the baby to bed is to think about making dinner, particularly if you've arrived late in the day.

(10) Adopt a more flexible approach, relax, and have fun!

Camping is naturally going to be a bit messier and dirty than a pristine nursery existence for your baby - you just have to accept it (and recognise it's probably quite good for them!). Obviously be smart about keeping non baby friendly items out of their reach, and don't let hygiene go out of the window completely, but your babies clothes are probably going to get a bit messy from them sitting on the floor of the tent, meals won't always be in a nice high chair, and washing won't always be in the routine (baths outside if it's miserable weather are less fun!), but they'll be happy and enjoy it, I promise.

Having said that, routine doesn't need to go out of the window entirely. We still have a bedtime routine for Otis of a bath (most nights), books, feed and bed. We know his broad nap routine, and try to work to it for when we get out of the door in the morning, plan drives, or big walks. We're not fastidious in keeping to it, but we recognise that doing things when he's lively and happy is a far nicer experience than when he's tired and miserable. It doesn't always work that way, but we give it a good go...

These things work for us anyway! I can't guarantee they will for you, but I hope you give it a go - camping is a cheap, fun way to spend time together as a family, and there's no reason why having a baby shouldn't make it as accessible as ever. 

For more pieces like this, follow our story at @mastersofmany and @mywaymum on Instagram

Why isn't there more Flexible Childcare? 4 women who are forging a new path in flexible childcare with co-working spaces

Flexible working and flexible childcare is having a moment. From campaigns from people like Mother Pukka #flexappeal (check out her brilliant flash mob footage here and look out for an interview on how the campaign will evolve over the next year) and TimeWise (Hire me My Way campaign), there is a drive to get companies to reconsider their restrictive working practices and embrace an outlook that, in particular, will prevent the massive loss to these industries of talented women with children who no longer see their roles as tenable.

However, alongside the drive for more flexible working for parents looking for an appropriate work life balance, there is already a huge growth in parents working flexibly, yet childcare hasn't quite caught up. The UK is on the verge of a mobile working tipping point, where there are more of us working away from the office than based behind a desk (The Work Foundation, 2016). It's predicted that by 2020 over 70% of us will be working flexibly (The Work Foundation); and the only rising sectors of workers are those who are self employed or temporary employees (Ian Brinkley, May 2016).

Finding a solution for childcare in a market where 49% of parents living as a couple both work (The Modern Families Index) is an ongoing challenge, but in London there are a number of women breaking the childcare mould. Finding solutions that provide flexibility around work space, and childcare; and a departure from the fixed hour model that most nurseries provide are: Elizabeth Moody from Officreche in Brighton; Shazia Mustafa from Third Door in Putney; Ann Nkune from Bloomsbury Beginnings; and Leo Wood from PlayPen (as well as her established workspaces Winkley Studios and Cook Street).

What I found interesting about all of these women, as is the way with a lot of female entrepreneurs, is that they took on the start up of these businesses to meet their own need, and often at pretty inopportune moments. There were a number of examples of doing up premises heavily pregnant, paintbrush in hand, but that's often how female entrepreneurs roll. Throw caution to the wind, and drive things with passion, enthusiasm, and a fair amount of risk taking along the way. Read on to find out more about their stories.

Elizabeth Moody-Stuart, Officreche, Brighton

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How did Officreche come to life?

I've had lots of different hats on in my career. I worked for The Art Newspaper, as a writer and editor, but quit in 2001 to write a novel. I wanted a lucrative part-time job so I wouldn't starve, so I built up a portfolio of skills, write, editing, and doing things like facilitating sessions for management consultants.

The idea for Officreche came when my daughter Iris was 6 months old. I'm not the type of person who, when they have something big and relatively natural coming up, does a lot of research around it. I come from a big family, and just assumed it would work. What I didn't do was work through the logistics of how having a kid would work with working in a portfolio manner, so I had to palm off Iris on my mother, or a friend, or a paid nursery. I couldn't quite believe that you had to pay for the same amount of hours each week, for every week of the year, and I hated the idea (1) because I'm relatively thrifty and (2) when you've had a baby - if it goes well, you feel like you can do anything, and your mind changes - you have a pull for your child, but you also want to be a freelance mother in your own right.

I came up with the idea and wrote a brief for the software to enable it to happen, as I realised that you wouldn't want to be manually dealing with people calling and asking for different hours - you'd have to have a PhD in maths. We tendered 3 different developers, and got someone to do it who have been amazing.

Then we needed to find some premises. I found an amazing property in Kemptown, but was beaten to renting it by Brighton College. I was a bit demoralised by that. I needed to find a friendly landlord who would take the risk, and that's what I found.

I had a mentor, who runs The Works, who had always wanted to do this kind of business, and he spotted this building. It was an ex-nursery. We negotiated a two year rent free period from the landlord, as I'd paid for the renovations. We got squatted before we even opened the doors though! Luckily, I managed to negotiate with them, and got them out within a weekend.

I carried on writing, facilitating for companies like Cap Gemini, KPMG, and other people who had set up their own businesses, and I honed it down to those jobs and Officreche. But in Spring last year, I decided to see if Officreche could work as a business properly and focus on that alone.

What interests me about Officreche is the fact that modern families need it. A huge proportion of parents with dependent children work flexibly. Our lifestyle changes mean there is a need to juggle childcare, and balance it with a fulfilling working life, whilst minimising guilt.

The reasons why this business is a success are recruitment and retention - so, the staff, the bespoke software that enables you to do it, private investment which has given me the freedom, and the emotional support that I have had.

How does the model work?

We have a basic number of fixed spaces that we offer; but, then you can do as little as you like, even 2 hours, but you then have to do that regularly, as you have to spend the time to settle the child.

The best financial deal is to buy a subscription of at least 10 hours a week. You can use them at any time, and you can store them up. You can even book your kid in that morning if there is space. When I designed the business, I got rid of all the things that hacked me off about childcare, so if your kid is sick, as long as we know within 48 hours, you can cancel the hours, and use them later. 

What kind of people do you have using Officreche?

It's brilliant as it's so varied. 2/3 of our families just use the flexible childcare, and not the flexible childcare with co-working (which was a massive learning for me as well). For the co-working space, we have lawyers, architects, entrepreneurs, a cookery business, a midwife, massage therapists, and life coaches.

It's mostly women, I'd love more men to come here though.

What about the dad side of it - all the businesses I've interviewed have talked about wanting Dads involved, but the reality is that they're more skewed to mums?

I'm just as welcoming to anyone, and love having fathers in here. This type of childcare will make it easier for fathers to take more of a role and there are more fathers taking on full time childcare now. However, there is a genetic bias towards your mother because you've been held in her for 9 months, and likely to have been breast fed by her. That means that the father has to catch up on that bit. It's not to say that they can't, but it takes quite an open minded and emotionally intelligent mother to allow it to happen.

Why do you think there hasn't been more facilities like this opening up?

There aren't massive margins in the nursery business, and it's not a sector that has really attracted entrepreneurs. The wages and pay in childcare isn't good at all. If you have a mind that is entrepreneurial, with an idea in childcare, you're still unlikely to run a nursery. Or, you're developing it for your own need, but then the space and time in which you need it is only actually about 5 years. If I hadn't found a property, my idea probably would have died off.

How do you see the business evolving?

Next steps would be expanding to Bristol, and East London as locations. You need a property, ideally with outdoor space, and you need an equivalent of me there to run it, and to recruit the staff to provide it. Nurseries aren't a big money spinner, the only way you make money is to have a big chain; and likewise with co-working spaces, you need the multiplier. But, it's not a simple thing to do, because the demographic and space is different each time.

I'm happy to get to the stage where I can license, white-label or give my expertise, but I'm wary of ruining my brand.

The time when someone needs this kind of childcare is actually really small. What I'm looking at in terms of marketing at the moment is getting people in before they get pregnant, and then want to stay. 

To find out more about Officreche, check out their site at www.officreche.com or follow them on Instagram @officreche

Shazia Mustafa, Third Door, Putney

How did Third Door come to life?

I worked with the BBC for Radio 5 Live, in audience research, focusing on how to reach our target market more effectively. I left the BBC to set up a business in 2006, but I had no idea how to make money out of it, and there wasn't much business support back then. I started at Nokia afterwards, as a brand research manager, and then got pregnant with my daughter, and had her at the end of 2007. Everything had changed for me from the second she was born. My career went out the window and I was in love with this little girl. But, when I thought about it more, I decided I didn't want to stop working as I'd worked too hard to get to this stage.

I brainstormed ideas about what I could do instead with a friend of mine. We both had children who were a few months old, and we were finding it impossible to get anything done. We were pushing our buggies through the park to get them to sleep and to get some time to ourselves. I remember thinking 'wouldn't it be great if we could just go somewhere to work uninterrupted, but they're near enough that they can be cared for'. A few days later I received an email from Springwise, which showcases ideas from around the world and one of them was co-working, crèche and yoga all in one place in San Francisco - a similar idea to the one I was talking about. We started to research the trends around co-working (a new concept in 2008); the fact that more people were remote working and setting up their own businesses to work around children, and that there was a gap in the market for flexible childcare.

My husband, Yusuf was studying for a self funded MBA at the time, whilst working for Dell, and I suggested that he based his dissertation on this idea. He was a home-based employee, so his study had become the little ones nursery, so he really understood the co-working side of it. We actually based the research on our current location, and it was a feasibility study for the idea. The conclusion was that the market conditions were right, and he got a distinction for the work. He handed it in in December 2008. Our little one had just turned 1, and in 2009 I took redundancy from Nokia, whilst pregnant with our second, and started working on Third Door.

The bank decided that they weren't going to lend us the money that we were counting on when I resigned (it was the time of the Lehman's crash), so we decided to re-mortgage and borrow money from friends and family.

We opened May 2010, positioning it as an adhoc service, supporting existing childcare. Listening to the customers we then adapted that model. Now it's a fully registered Ofsted nursery offering the flexibility that others don't. We're a bricks and mortar space, offering childcare with co-working, supported by software that we've developed ourselves, to support that flexible model.

How does the model work?

We have two options. One is fixed days; but if you want to swap a day or buy an extra day, you can do that really easily. The second option is geared more to freelancers where you can buy a block of hours. There is consistency of staff, the rooms and the care the children get, but the service is built around the needs of the parents.

What kind of people use the space?

We have freelancers & consultants, who tend to travel a bit further. People in the service based industries - marketers, journalists. Then we have remote workers, and they like the flexibility in terms of cost savings. We also have people who live a lot closer who just use the nursery and not the co-working space.

What services do you offer in terms of co-working?

We have tried networking events, seminars, workshops, all of that. This year, we're looking at things like accelerator schemes and we have lots of partnerships to expand our offer.

Why do you think that other nurseries aren't taking on a similar model?

I've had people who have come to me, who have set up co-working spaces, and have looked at the childcare and don't really want to run an Ofsted nursery. I think from the nursery aspect, the bigger operators are looking to make a profit, using a cookie cutter approach, and aren't looking to change anything if that's working. For the independent nurseries, they're really passionate about running a nursery, but they want to achieve the outstanding level with Ofsted, and that's what their business is based on.

You have so many issues to consider - the number of children, the number of staff coming in, what time bookings are, and potential extensions. We went from manual paper based bookings, to excel, to everything being programmed, using our current system. It now takes seconds to make bookings. We've had to go through that to understand our customers' needs and now we can just white label what we've done.

The government keep on talking about flexibility in childcare, but they're getting assistance from nurseries that don't really know about it.

I want to talk more about these kinds of things, as we're positioned well in this space. I think it will be the next generation who will get this a bit more, and in the meantime we're all muddling along.

What future plans do you have for the business?

We get emails from Japan, Australia, Saudi, America and lots from other locations in the UK about what we do. We'll start by expanding in London first.

As my children get older, we're starting to see other types of opportunities in terms of childcare. School times for example don't work for many working parents.

I want to help the working family grow together, that's what I'm really passionate about. This is one solution, but I'd like to look at other solutions and work with bigger nursery chains. There are lots of different routes we can take.

On a personal level, my eldest child is now 8 and before she goes to secondary school, I want to go travelling for a year as a family and use that time to educate my children about the wider world. 

To find out more about Third Door, go to their website at www.third-door.com or follow them on facebook and Instagram

 

Ann Nkune - Bloomsbury Beginnings

How did Bloomsbury Beginnings come to life?

I had an epiphany moment of becoming a parent at 41 and reviewing my whole career. Prior to that I managed services in the probation service sector for under 18's. My role required many hours a week and a really strong vocation and I didn't feel that it fitted in with what I wanted to be doing as a parent. My priorities also changed. My local community became really important to me and I became interested in the idea of flexible working and the emotional trauma that people go through as a mum and equality.

In 2012 I took over a friends website, which essentially celebrated what was going on in the local area for mums. It gave me a ready-made community. I realised that a lot of the mums had creative ideas, and were open to new opportunities. My background is in the 3rd sector so I approached UnLtd, the leading provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the UK with a start up idea. I learnt more about what is actually helpful to people and realised that they could gain from a structured development process using the start up and from there the Parents Incubator was born. People needed business skills and technical skills, but mostly they needed a process so that they didn't give up along the way.

The Parents Incubator is a 10 week process of people coming together and it can be extremely powerful. We've had some amazing people come through it; all with a huge amount of experience. We've had about 40 people who've started up businesses, and others who have been confident to go into new roles or started as freelancers.

However everyone involved had a problem in finding the time to do the homework, because they were all too busy looking after their families. I thought we needed a co-working space. I went to the council and they supported me to develop the concept.

I went to two community centres which were Ofsted registered and we started combining that service with three hour drop in working sessions twice a week. We're also running separate hour long workshops, thanks to additional funding from RBS (Inspiring Women in Enterprise) that people can choose to go to. Primarily it's an opportunity for people to come and work, but it might even be to do their household admin, or just give them quiet time. For a lot of people they're also trying out a creche for the first time, so they like that they can hear what's going on, and can pop in and out to see what is happening with their child.

Do you focus on parents, or is it a focus on mums alone?

We do have men coming on the course and using the co-working space,  probably a ration of about 10%, but that's still the reality of life. I tag everything 'parents' although often it's local mums who attend. My long term strategic vision for the service to be for all parents is really important to me.

Co-working has become much more mainstream now, as has flexible working, and child care has to become more flexible alongside that.

How do you want to progress the business going forward?

My long term goals are to have a place where parents with a professional background or going through a career change, feel comfortable to come and think through their worklife as a parent, and make flexible working successful for them.

I think there is a huge opportunity for a network of community centres to act as all sorts of different support services - childcare, and co-working facilities that would be part of their weekly routine. It would be somewhere that parents could come and get support around parenting and their professional lives, in an environment they feel proud to be part of. It's quite a big agenda! My vision is to have 10 parent hubs around Central London where parents can come and really be part of something.

I'm looking at new locations. You have to have a strong network to open up anywhere. I've got a network of London female founders together who are doing similar things and looking at opportunities in this space. I want to generally encourage the market to develop because I think at the moment, we don't really know what will work to draw parents to use these kinds of facilities; and the more that the message is out there about the industry, the better.

I'd really like to promote within networks and companies to be more creative about flexible working, and to raise the agenda politically so that councils and central government think more creatively about childcare options.

To find out more about Bloomsbury Beginnings, check out their website here or follow them on Instagram

Leo Wood, The CoWorkSpace Company - locations including Winkley Studios and Cooks Yard, and PlayPen

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How did your journey into co-working start?

I was actually an arts and theatre producer and that was my career progression since graduating from university. I was looking to create an office space that was affordable, so I thought I'd try and find somewhere cool, rent out some desks, and cover my overheads by bringing in an income. At that point in 2010, co-working wasn't even a name.

I found this great space in Durham Yard, which was a fun collective of little Victorian workshops and offices, and rented one of the units. We had about 5 desks, and the landlord didn't really know what we were doing, but within a month I'd managed to pay back the money that was required to rent it for the next 4 months. So we rented out the two units above as well. I ran the business for 5 years and I worked from there as a theatre producer.

In a way the co-working idea has developed in that time, particularly the idea of providing services or thinking about active community engagement.

I got pregnant in 2012 and decided I didn't really want to be a theatre producer anymore. I thought that I would have loads of time when I had a baby, and that I'd get really bored without a project, so I decided to scale up the workspace thing. I went on a property hunt while I was pregnant, and found a site just around the corner, on Winkley Street. I was literally going to pick up for the keys for it when my daughter was about a week old, but thank god, the tenants were delayed in moving out, so I was only moving in when she was six weeks old. But there was this period where I remember she was always in the sling, I was painting walls, and every two hour nap was work time. It was really full on, and a bit of a mistake, although you live to tell the tale. We opened in November 2013, and it was very successful.

What was the model of the business when you first opened it?

I think in a way, because I knew I was having a baby, the ambition of the project was more one step forward, rather than three steps forward, and that was quite deliberate. I knew it needed to be manageable rather than 5 times the size, employing a load of staff, spending £50k on a whole new IT system. So in a way whilst I was able to do more with Winkley, I wasn't able to do everything I might have done if I hadn't had a kid.

The interesting thing about co-working, is that you can have an idea of the community you want to support, but actually the community finds you. You create the space with your own principles and other like-minded people are attracted to that. Our spaces have a design focus, but affordability is really important. It's also about low fuss, calm working spaces. There are a lot of co-working spaces that tend to appeal to the younger, tech focused guys, with after work drinks all of the time, but we're more homely, affordable and flexible. 

What sparked the idea about your most recent location addition, the pop up PlayPen co-working / childcare sessions?

I think the childcare problem is really interesting. The typical successful start up founder is probably a 25 year old man, and childcare is the last thing on their mind. It's an area where there could be a lot more innovation.

I ran two taster sessions in the summer of 2015, which were really successful. I was interested in the pop up model, because it's more viable. Your life doesn't get overtaken with writing Ofsted reports, although you still need to find funding. We now run a weekly session in Mile End at the St. Pauls Community Centre, which gives parents a few hours working in the Paper & Cup Cafe, while their children get to play in the creche next door.

How do you see the flexible childcare market developing?

One of the challenges is that you put in so much energy and effort, but then you're only creating 50 spaces maximum, but in a way the problem is so big, there must be a digital solution to the problem that would have more impact.

I think that Sitters.co.uk potentially starts to solve the problem. It's really high level, vetted babysitters, who you can book in flexible hours at an hourly rate. The rating system from other parents is very effective. I met a woman who used Sitters in an incredibly resourceful way. She'd have a meeting in Barbican, go earlier and meet the sitters woman, have her meetings and then come back to the sitter. Of course, that doesn't deliver on the co-working, and there is a real need for parents to build communities, and that's what the co-working delivers, but the real problem is the childcare, not the flexible working space.

I also think it's a really big problem for the first 9 months, but then women manage to work something out, whether it's a friend or granny helping out, or finding a great nursery. When I first had Evie I was so passionate about this issue, but once Evie was settled, and happy (we have a nanny share), I became less obsessed about it.

Dads being more involved has become more acceptable, and they are more hands on than they ever were, but there is still a long way to go. Childcare tends to be a woman's problem, we tend to be the ones looking for a solution, or doing interviews with nannies. It still tends to fall into our admin pile.

To find out more about Playpen, go to their site at www.playpencowork.com or follow them on Twitter https://twitter.com/playpencowork

For more pieces like this about the changing world of work, follow @mastersofmany on Instagram