Interview: Lucie Stephens, New Economics Foundation

We interview Lucie Stephens from NEF who is helping to expand the options for co-operative childcare in the UK.

Tell us about what you’ve done:

There is currently a crisis in childcare in the UK. There’s a lack of choice or influence for parents, there’s an increasing number of parents having to work longer hours to pay for their children’s care and then they have limited access to what’s going on. This is in stark contrast to my own experience in Canada where one of the options for parents, like myself, is to join a co-operative. Co-operative childcare involves parents and qualified staff working alongside each other within a setting, to care for a group of children. NEF decided to see whether this option was technically viable in the UK and we have uncovered some great examples including Scallywags. However, these nurseries consistently feel isolated and struggle financially, and often only survive through a high level of commitment from staff and parents.

We have teamed up with Sophia Parker and the Family Childcare Trust to undertake a period of research. We want to develop a financial model for co-operative childcare which details how it works in operation and provide legal and practical guidance so that come springtime, we can co-design some workshops with parents and other stakeholders who would like to take this forward.

Our aim is to create a childcare option which is high quality, low cost, financially viable, fair to its workers and provides a high level of parental involvement.

Who has been your greatest inspiration or influence?

The parents who have been doing it already – joining the few co-operative nurseries and co-working with qualified staff to look after their and other children.

The best thing about what we’ve done is…

We’re capturing something which could easily be overlooked – this type of childcare is a grey area – and because it’s not formal, there’s a danger that it could go under.

What has been the biggest or best mistake you have made?

Assuming it would be straightforward. The idea behind co-operative childcare makes such common sense but child care is a highly regulated area which is very risk averse and hugely bureaucratic.

Did anything surprise you during the project?

This links to my best mistake. Co-operative childcare is not about a cheap compromise – there are so many benefits to the children, the parents and the staff but it has been very difficult to work through the legislation and regulations.

I’ve been surprised at how hard it has been to pull apart what is intent and what is good practice and what is simply an interpretation of the intent but then becomes ‘the way we do things’.

What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of doing something similar?

Be prepared to be prepared – I’m someone who likes to get started and figure it out as we go along but you can’t work in that way in this sector. There has been a lot of planning involved and sometimes I feel like we’ve spent so much time looking at the problems, that it becomes impossible to take action!

What’s next?

Once this research phase is over, we’re planning to bring together interested parents and stakeholders for the design phase – and we’ll be armed with the parameters, limits and know-how which can help them make co-operative childcare a viable reality.

Where can we find out more?

We’re really keen to hear from anyone who is interested in helping us take this idea forward, so please contact me directly at lucie.stephens@neweconomics.org.

Tell us your favourite quote…

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has. (Margaret Mead)

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