It’s hard to believe that we’ve already turned the corner on 2017 and that we’re closer to 2018 than 2016 – but it’s true. Before very much longer some bright spark will be talking about the nights drawing in - lets have at least a LITTLE more summer before we have to start thinking about that!
2017 has, however, already been a milestone year for me, because it was twenty-five years ago that the embryonic version of what has since become Nipperbout first saw the light of day. And what a ride it’s been to have reached this far. Back then I was a performer and theatrical executive – I was also a mum with two toddlers, a husband and a head full of ideas. Now, there’s a half million turnover business employing over two hundred and fifty people delivering top quality childcare and also training the next generation of venue operators to work with us and do the same. How did it all happen?!
In 1992 the Royal Family suffered what the Queen described as an “annus horibilis”, the nation voted the Conservatives in to a fourth term in power – Graham Norton made his debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. At that time I was an actress with toddlers and no childcare options that I could use when I needed to audition for new work. Latterly I’m delighted to see a new organisation called “Raising Films’ is now addressing that specific issue for people in “The Business”, but at the time it made things really difficult. It was also in 1992 that a good friend of mine approached me for help – would I be able to run a facility to look after the children of staff attending her company’s family party? Not only did I manage to do so, word got around and shortly afterwards I found myself doing the same kind of thing for Vauxhall Cars at the legendary (not to mention downright secretive) Millbrook Proving Ground. At this point the penny dropped…
Before Steve and I founded Nipperbout I’d been “nipping about” from venue to venue delivering mobile creches from a former and much battered post office van accompanied by the aforementioned brace of toddlers, a pair of dogs, a guinea pig and a rabbit as part of the entourage! The work was stretching but I learned so much about the industry – and what it needs to be able to thrive. Long before our wonderful “Purple People” as they are now affectionately known came into being, I recognised that proper and formal certification of the mobile childcare world needed to be established. Now, years later, I look back on having taken on the DFES - which ultimately resulted in changes to the Childcare Act in 2008 – I’m very proud of that. We wrote the childcare standards for Jersey, the children’s field section in the Festival Guide Book (The Purple Guide) and consulted on the crèche section of the E Guide for Venues. But as it grows, the whole childcare sector faces challenges and we have a few of our own too.
Government recognition of what businesses like Nipperbout do is a big challenge – for instance, there needs to be a single and separate registration for mobile providers. Instead of us having to jump through the same hoops that permanent settings have to comply with we should be seen – and tested – as a separate branch of the industry. Recruitment is a challenge - staff change with every job based on need, so we have a huge turnover in people as a result. Venues are a challenge because frequently they have no idea of the regulations which apply around the care of children. There are also the risks associated with working in venues not built with childcare in mind. And, of course, the children are all different each time – some don’t even stay in their own homes at night. My work won’t be over until we have Government recognition for mobile childcare providers and a single Ofsted registration certificate to bring us the credibility that clients, whether corporate or private, rightly look for. The two in turn will mean that the quality of what the mobile provider industry offers is seen to be right up there – and it’ll also help fundamentally to protect the children in our care.
Over the years Nipperbout has developed from working out of that battered van to doing so from aboard planes, buses, boats and in fields. Every day brings a bizarre new enquiry or challenge – how about providing creches at Centre Parcs for the American government or dealing with 400 under 5s for the Saudi Government? Facilities for kids at the British Grand Prix their parents are watching the cars scream by? No problem. Not only have we been approached to cover these requirements we’ve gone ahead and met all three already. As a business I have always had the desire to embrace change, because change, whether regulatory or on the creative side of how we interact with the children who come through our hands, is a constant. Fail to react to that – or, more importantly, fail to ANTICIPATE it – and we start to fail everyone. With each successive challenge that we meet, we become stronger at anticipating the changing needs of the market. The registration and certification of us that I mentioned may need to step up to keep up too. And to return to my roots as an actress for a moment here, I’m also proud that Nipperbout supports actors. This is because we can provide a perfect second job for thespians to pick up and put down which keeps them going when otherwise they would be “resting”. I’d be willing to bet that we are probably the only employers that say “An audition? Go for it!” - so they never have to make up excuses about why they can’t work!
It sounds like a line, but the last quarter of a century has passed us in what seems to be the blink of an eye. The van has long since been replaced and my two toddlers are now three fine young people carving out their own routes through the world. Steve, The Purple People and I learn something new every day – which is exactly as it should be. Nurtured, but allowed to develop to be the very best that they can be as individuals, our children are all collectively our future.
Here’s to the next twenty-five years!