Alice Wright is a journalist and founder and owner of Work and Play – a child-friendly networking group for freelancers and self-employed parents in Cornwall. She runs a Facebook group and holds regular events aimed at helping members to build on their skills, make new contacts and grow their businesses. Here she writes about how she set up and built the group to what it is today.
The idea for Work and Play came to me one morning a couple of years ago, as I tried to entertain my children while surreptitiously checking emails on my phone. I’d recently had my second baby and was balancing motherhood with maintaining a career as a freelance writer. In theory, freelancing is ideal when you’ve got young children – you can set your own hours and work from home, slotting your work neatly around the needs of your family. In reality it can often be lonely, frustrating and extremely challenging, and I was desperate to chat to others in the same boat.
I went to toddler groups, where I met lots of lovely mums, but conversations invariably centred around teething and sleep patterns. I can bemoan my lack of sleep for as long as the next parent, but I also wanted to talk about career goals and pitching strategies. The alternative was networking events, but these seemed too formal, and were usually held at times that would require complicated childcare arrangements.
So I decided to set up Work and Play, a child-friendly group where freelance parents could meet to share issues, experiences and ideas. I gauged interest by posting on local Facebook sites, sending out a few emails and chatting to a couple of freelance mums I already knew. The feedback was positive so I reserved a table at a local cafe, telling them I’d need space for about 10 adults and children. One person turned up. Disappointed but undeterred I arranged another meet up the following month. This time I decided there was probably no need to reserve a table. I was right – no-one else turned up.
But gradually the word spread and more people started coming along. I created a Facebook group, which now has more than 70 members, including artists, photographers, journalists and marketing experts. Numbers at the monthly get-togethers can still vary from a handful to up to 10 (plus children) – some are regulars and some only come once in a while, and I love the fact there’s a different mix each time. Little ones are always very welcome and I try to make sure there’s plenty to keep them entertained – we usually meet at a child-friendly cafe but as numbers grow I’m thinking about alternative venues.
In the past year I’ve started making the meet-ups more focused, selecting a theme and asking a member who’s an expert in that field to lead the discussion. So we’ve had Q&As around areas such as digital marketing, PR, and productivity and efficiency. These have gone down well so I plan to build on that, maybe inviting outside specialists in to speak to the group.
Aside from the skill-sharing and opportunity to network, the group’s main benefit is providing somewhere to chat with other local parents who are balancing self-employment with bringing up children. Work and Play is full of creative, driven mums (and a couple of dads) forging interesting, fulfilling careers for themselves, and the meet-ups have led to some inspiring conversations about how, and why, we make it all work. And yes, sometimes we talk about teething and lack of sleep too.