Gaynor Pates took voluntary redundancy from the railway industry last year. She had been working there for 10 years on health and strategic research, looking at future trends.
When she left she decided to use her skills to set up her own company, specialising in anticipating future trends. One of the first concepts she hit on with her company Think Future was childcare.
She saw that more and more parents would be working flexibly or freelance in the future. One of their major problems, though, was affordable childcare.
She came up with the Working Free concept. “I had followed the rise of co-working spaces where people who worked on their own could come and work together,” she says. “If they are parents, as many are, they still need childcare to do that and it has to be flexible and affordable. I wanted to solve those two problems.”
She was also well aware from personal experience as a mum of two children aged six and three of the need mums have to find a bit of space to do everything from paying bills online to looking for jobs without having to do it with children on your lap. “You need a bit of time for a sanity break, but you also want to be not too far from your children,” she says.
So she went about finding a co-working space which could accommodate a creche. Earlier this month she launched her first pop-up creche at Willesden Green library's already existing co-working space. The space has been in use since February and is part of New Windows on Willesden Green, a regeneration project funded by Brent Council to make the library a genuine community place.
Gaynor, who is in the fortunate position of not needing any childcare herself since her husband looks after the children, had been planning a similar space in south-west London where she lives. However, since the opportunity came up in Brent first she jumped at the chance to see how it would work in practice.
The creche and co-working space at the library are free, funded by the council until June, although Gaynor is hoping for an extension until the school holidays. The council pays her for childcare services.
The creche space has to be very flexible as the library is used for evening events so it needs to be able to be packed away at the end of the day. It also has to have secure lockable doors so the children can't get out and parents need to be able to see in so it has a mesh wall. It was designed by Architecture 00, an urban design organisation.
“The parents are working in practically the same room as their children, just separated by a material wall,” says Gaynor. “It's quite an innovative way to divide up a room and the children can see their parents if they need to plus mums can go in and out and breastfeed.”
It is staffed to enable it to cater to up to nine children, but more staff can be called in if demand is higher. The staff include a creche manager, childcare professionals and volunteers from the local community. Gaynor has also partnered with a local firm, Spotted Zebra, who do pop-up creches at festivals and other events and they help with staffing.
Gaynor says she has been looking at several other potential spaces. She looked around community centres, but says they don't provide the environment she wants to create. “I want to attract a diverse mix of people, from professionals who are working flexibly to mums who have taken a career break to raise children or parents who are on benefits,” she says, “but I'm not sure people would pay for a community centre space. However, they are happy to pay to go into Starbucks and work there. I want to offer something that equals or betters that experience.”
She adds that a lot of public buildings are wasted. “It may be that I can work with councils to bring up the standard of those places, even if it is on a temporary basis,” she says.
She adds that she will consider each proposition on a case by case basis so she might charge for childcare in one space, but not in another. “I need to be really flexible about how it will work in different places,” she says.