Nipperbout is, fundamentally, a British firm operating in Britain but with our membership of the European Union (for now, at least), we’ve been broadening our reach and working in some of the other member states. Recently we added Spain and Italy to our international list of client countries. It’s been an enlightening time for the business.
Nipperbout has wrestled with UK legislation in the way it applies to temporary, occasional childcare since the business started in 1993. Thanks in no small part to our lobbying of parliament, numerous meetings with the DFES and Ofsted plus my own tenacity, the legislation was changed in 2008 to include some exemptions for temporary, occasional services, such as that which we and others like us provide. Our in-depth knowledge of UK childcare law (we are registered in England, Scotland and Wales) has served us well for working in Europe. That’s because most of the legislation in Europe is actually based on the UK’s own 1989 Children Act.
In the UK it is hard enough trying to make people understand our kind of service and the legislation governing it. Trying to explain what we do and how we do it in another language and country is extremely hard! The phrase “Nuestra servico se classifica como recreacion y ocsio para ninos MAS de guarderia de ninos” is now burned into my mind forever and I can rattle it off with conviction – albeit that it hardly trips off the tongue. It translates as “Our service is classified as recreation and leisure for children OTHER than day care” and is crucial to Spanish venues where, as in the UK, we’re asked for permissions or licences to trade for most categories of childcare in Europe. My Spanish is quite good but I had problems abroad when trying to translate the term ‘temporary childcare’, as well as it's sense. The Spanish authorities’ perception of this term (there, it’s ‘guardaria temporal’), is that the service is permanently based and children visit for short periods of time, just as they do at a shoppers crèche. The concept of a service which literally pops up and then disappears again in a few days is generally unknown and at first it took a great deal of explaining to get the concept across. Luckily for us a wonderful lawyer called Eduardo helped. After much head scratching he and an Ayuntamieto de Madrid official with him found the specific part of European childcare law which allows us to operate for less than five days in a given building and in a given year. This was progress and we were hugely relieved when it finally came to light!
We had a similar experience in Italy last year. In Rome, officials required a letter from Ofsted in the UK which, in turn, had to be sanctioned and notarised by a lawyer (a very expensive process!) approved by the Italian embassy. Insurance to work abroad comes at a price too (of course!), so if you’re going to trade abroad it’s prudent to think about possible exchange rate fluctuations when working out budgets. One of our Spanish events this year happened at the height of the school summer holiday - we got stung by the costs of hire, flight and accommodation. A second event took place after the schools went back – strangely (!) we found that costs dropped dramatically.
Working with European venues can also be tricky, because not knowing the local language can lead to misunderstandings. All the venues we encountered were helpful in supplying information about what we needed to do for build-up and break-down, but in Rome our setup crew fell foul of some unscrupulous security personnel. Despite having the right vehicle pass issued by the venue itself, our team was asked to hand over 50 ‘refundable’ euros to enter the venue loading bays. Strangely, we never saw that particular expense again!
We found the venue managers themselves very accommodating in both Rome and Barcelona – they went out of their way to make us feel welcome. They were fascinated by the Nipperbout service and came to visit us repeatedly. There were some interesting ‘lost in translation’ incidents when the Spanish thought we were asking for first aid kits to be supplied to our room - actually we were asking if there was a first aid room anywhere on site. All was resolved eventually though.
A venue in Madrid was the largest we have worked in to date – it was truly huge and so a lot less personal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the operators of it had little understanding of childcare, so we arrived to find an electrical cabinet, which they needed to get access to, right in the middle of the crèche area – not good. They also wouldn’t let us put up signage on a cubicle in the toilets asking for priority access for children – you can imagine the trouble with had with queueing for little legs and small bladders as a result! We’ve learnt from this - the Nipperbout ‘Do Differently’ lesson is that it is vital to carry out a thorough site visit and to meet venue operators face-to-face to go over potential issues before the event begins. We did this in Barcelona and Rome - in Madrid our clients had convinced us that there was no need because the site was just an empty hall. It’s a lesson we’ll not need to learn again!
There’s an old armed forces saying – ‘time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted’. This proved to be absolutely true because our site visit in Barcelona identified that there were actually two venues at the site of Fira Barcelona (the city’s trade fair and one of the most important in Europe), not one. Each is quite a long way away from the other and as a result we were almost late for our meeting by going to the wrong one first. It was an easy mistake but it was good to have made it at that point – turning up late for the actual event would have been extremely bad for our reputation and business. With reconnaissance in mind, we noted that staff accommodation doesn’t always turn out to be as handy as it first appears on a website. In both Rome and Barcelona we discovered that the hotels we had booked were much further from the venue than we had anticipated. More lessons learned…
As a company we had our registration details and signage translated into both Spanish and Italian before we left the UK – in fact we ended up using the English version because visitors to all the events we attended were multinational and tended to speak English rather than the languages of the host countries. Our Purple People spoke several different languages between them and this really helped when it came to reassuring our very young clients. We were able to get around languages such as Latvian and Yemeni that were alien to us because the children themselves tended to speak at least two languages each and could translate for each other. A good old fashioned game of tag transcends language and computer games seemed to be understood by everyone aged above 4!
It has been a fantastic experience and opportunity to work in mainland Europe over the last few months. Previously we’d worked with European, Arabic and American Clients here in the UK and had taken our services to Jersey, Ireland and Switzerland. Bizarrely, the sudden interest in us from European clients has only come about since the result of last year’s Brexit referendum. Whatever the politicians do during the current negotiations, as a company we’re looking forward to increasing the amount of trade we do in the European market. And with that in mind I can already report that next year that Nipperbout will be nipping about in Copenhagen and Munich!