Creating a granny support network

Grannynet provides a forum and support network for grandparents helping out with childcare. Workingmums.co.uk spoke to its founder Verity Gill.

Are you one of those parents who relies on their own parents for childcare? A growing number do for a variety of reasons, including childcare costs and concerns about leaving their young children in formal childcare. Cuts in tax credits and rising childcare costs mean more are likely to do so in the future. But what about the grandparents? Do they need support and advice?

That’s where Grannynet steps in. The site was officially launched in 2008 and has just this month been relaunched to make it simpler and easier to use.

Its founder Verity Gill came up with the idea while she was on maternity leave. “I was due back to work three days a week and my mum kindly offered to help with childcare. I didn’t want my daughter to go into nursery at the time as she was just nine months old, plus it was incredibly expensive,” she says. She got chatting to another mum whose mum also helped out with childcare.

“We started talking about how we had lots of support from the NCT, other mums or the internet, but there was nothing for grandparents. They could go to toddler and baby groups, but they would not be able to click into talking to the other mums in the same way we could. They did not have a community of their own,” she continues. “Having that support network was the thing that kept me sane as a mum.”

Verity was also reluctant to return to working the same way she had done before she had her daughter. Both she and her husband worked long hours. Verity was a mathematical econometrist modeller for a media company, a job which was very much client-facing. “I wanted more of a balance – to keep working but be around more for my daughter,” she says.

She spoke to other mums and her husband about her idea to set up a community website for grandparents. She set about building a website and then about a year and a half ago she took on a business partner, Charlotte Lloyd Owen, to help her out. The two had met on a marketing course at London Business School. Charlotte had been made redundant while she was pregnant and lived, like Verity at the time, in South London.

Growing business

Verity then moved to Sussex and was working two days a week on Grannynet, but as time went by and both her and Charlotte’s children got older they wanted to increase their hours. Verity’s daughter Ebony is starting school in September and she says she can then increase her hours more.

The site now has 2,500 unique visitors a month and Verity says numbers have been growing a lot recently. She has also been adding different things to the site. Last year, for instance, she set up a course for new grandmothers and mums to be. “The idea was to encourage the strong bond between mums to be and their own mums before they go back to work, to make sure they are on the same page and that the grandmothers know about the latest advice on childcare and health and safety,” says Verity. The course is run by a qualified midwife and was piloted last year. Now Verity is looking to partner up with Sure Start and Mothercare to reduce the cost of the course.

She thinks the Government ought to invest more in offering support to grandparents since they are saving the country so much money in childcare. “It is estimated that grandparents save parents £33 billion a year in childcare costs,” she says. “The Government should invest in supporting them as a way of supporting parents who are feeling the pinch due to the Budget,” she says.

Verity is also developing a second course on childcare after the newborn stage which will cover things like breastfeeding, post-natal depression, discipline, routine and payment.  “A lot of grannies can afford to pay for food, for instance, but many have given up work to look after their grandchildren and are less well off. It helps if you discuss these issues first,” says Verity.

She adds that it is useful to get grannies involved in the latest research on things like weaning and sleeping in order to avoid confrontation. One of the questions grannies most ask on the site is about sleeping. “They can be worried about putting children to sleep on their backs in case they choke and it helps for them to know the research on cot deaths,” says Verity. She says the aim of the course is to increase their confidence and boost the bond between mums and their own mums.

Advice

As well as the courses, the site itself includes practical and expert advice on everything from food to family life and it has a shopping area with product advice, for instance, about highchairs that are easy to put up and reliable. There is also a community forum where grandparents can chat about issues that concern them. One issue is grandparents who do not see much of their grandchildren due to separation or because the family has moved overseas. The site gives advice on how to make the most of phone conversations. For instance, there is advice on how to play games such as treasure hunts via Skype. The grandparent tells the parent where to put the treasure and the clues and the child hunts for the treasure in real time over Skype. “It’s a lovely way to speak face to face and play a game they will remember more than just a simple phone call,” says Verity.

She says the forum acts as a king of mutual support service. The site includes ground rules which aim to make grandparents feel not so guilty about, for instance, saying they are too tired sometimes to look after young children.

Verity has several ideas about developing the site, including recruiting granny bloggers, providing more advice on products to make grandparents’ lives easier [an online shop is launching soon], creating an expert panel, rolling out her courses nationwide and getting grandparents to swap advice with each other. The main aim, though, is to “keep the focus on what we do best – providing a much needed support network for grandparents”.





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