Over the last year, we have been supporting our Near Now Studio members to research and develop ambitious new projects that create meaning and value for people’s everyday lives.
As the outcomes of each project emerge from the Studio, we’re asking the cohort to share stories of how their ideas have progressed and their plans for the future.
Studio members Amy Martin, Naomi Turner and Marta Monge have been working on re-imagining childcare for the 21st century, through new approaches built on trust, flexibility and shared resources.
Here’s the first part of their story.
The problems associated with current childcare policy are well known: the costs of childcare place the UK second only to Switzerland.
At the same time, mainstream childcare providers are warning that they cannot meet the thirty hours of free childcare pledged by Government, and state that low pay is driving experience and talent from the sector.
In this situation, everyone loses: childcare is reduced to a transaction out of step with the working patterns of parents.
At the Near Now Studio, we have been working on a project to imagine childcare alternatives that would make it easy for parents to consider working together to organise and co-design childcare arrangements.
We are aiming to reduce costs and create opportunity for innovations that could improve quality of care and working conditions for childcare professionals.
With more freelancers and micro-businesses than ever before, the issue of childcare is no longer deemed to be a women’s issue, but a wider question about how we can work and care for others in a way that complements, rather than competes against each other.
We believe that good quality childcare that works for parents and children - not just providers - leads to greater diversity and inclusion in wider society. Parents are at present undervalued by current mainstream childcare providers, which rely on transactional relationships. Our research indicates that many parents would like to be more involved in childcare, and in doing so learn new skills from peers - whilst being able to work on the flexible basis so often demanded of freelancers.
A Co-operative Solution
The collaborative nature of the Near Now Studio has been vital to the development of this project. Working together as a team from different backgrounds [the creative sector, product and service design and policy respectively], we are designing a prototype operating model and digital service which would allow parents to group together to form a childcare co-operative, in which all members commit time and resources to looking after each other’s children, alongside their own with highly qualified childcare professional(s) in a non-domestic setting.
This digital tool forms part of a wider project called #RadicalChildcare, an initiative to explore, imagine and invest in bold new possibilities for the future of childcare. As well as helping parents set up their own co-working creche or form a co-operative group, we would also like to inspire existing providers to realise the benefit of involving parents in childcare by demonstrating their value (and perhaps securing childcare at a reduced cost).
Perceived benefits of multi-stakeholder childcare co-ops are:
- Providing a continuity of care to the child
- An opportunity to upskill parents
- Better pay and benefits for the childcare worker(s)
- Improved relationship between parent & setting
- Improved childhood outcomes — including home learning and improved flow of information on milestones and child development
- Settings better able to respond to the needs of parents and able to adjust services to meet demand
We imagine a network of Childcare Co-operatives where parent members commit time and resources to care for the memberships’ children working with highly qualified childcare professional(s) in a non-domestic setting.
By building a model, used by parents, which ensures that care arrangements meet minimum legislative requirements (number of children to staff ratio, floor space, and mixture of qualified [childcare] and non-qualified staff [parents acting as playworkers]), we can develop a typology of childcare that we would actually want, rather than stretching resources already at breaking point.
Parts of this story were first published on Medium by Naomi Turner.
In the next part of our story, Naomi will talk about the important, in-depth research and testing we went through to reach a model for minimum viable childcare.
Stories from the Studio
Find out more about the projects developed through the Near Now Studio over on the Stories page.